Vaccine distributors across the state will need to direct 10% of each shipment to non-hospital affiliated health care personnel, according to a new order signed by Pennsylvania Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine on Wednesday.
Following complaints from private physician practices stating they had yet to be informed when their staff could expect to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, non-affiliated health care providers will be included in the first phase of distribution and will have a portion of vaccines dedicated to them starting Jan. 6.
The order applies to any entity distributing vaccines, including hospitals, health systems, federally qualified health centers and pharmacies.
“Getting Pennsylvanians immunized with a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is an essential step in reducing the number of virus-related cases, hospitalizations and deaths, including all those who continue to take care of us,” Levine said in a press release on Wednesday. “There are nearly one million health care personnel across the commonwealth who work directly or indirectly with patients and are eligible for vaccines initially.”
Earlier this week, a group of state health care associations wrote an open letter to the state Department of Health, noting that it had yet to outline how it would vaccinate the staff of health care providers outside of hospitals or health systems.
While some health systems were transparent about how and when they vaccinated non-affiliated health care providers, David Silbert, president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Ophthalmology said many systems did not make the effort to inform area providers when they could expect vaccines.
The new order forces systems to be more transparent with their methodology now that they must reserve vaccines for providers, Silbert said. He added that some systems, such as Lancaster General Health and St. Luke’s in Bethlehem were transparent with their methodologies and have informed the academy’s members of when they could expect vaccinations.
Other systems seemed to offer immunizations to physicians randomly, he said.
“It’s forcing the hospitals to come up with plans that are clear and include the entire health care community,” he said. “They will play a large part in distributing the vaccines in the future. It’s forcing them to do something that the state wanted them to do on their own.”
Silbert expects the 10% order will not be enough for private practices in the long term and would like to see practices offer their own vaccines. That could be difficult for some specialties whose malpractice providers won’t sign off on the service.
“If my practice could immunize people we could do it. Our malpractice provider has to be on board and allow us to do it,” Silbert said. “You will need to have every willing provider to be able to vaccinate people because we need to vaccinate a very large amount of people in a short time.”