Getting the COVID-19 vaccine just got more challenging for McKean County residents.
As of last week, McKean County vaccine providers will no longer receive first dose vaccines from the state of Pennsylvania.
Kane Mayor Brandy Schimp shared a letter she sent to Governor Tom Wolf Friday regarding the changes to vaccine distribution with The Era via email and also posted the letter to social media.
Her letter, in part, states, “After successfully holding clinics that vaccinated hundreds of people, we were saddened and frustrated to learn that UPMC Kane was no longer approved by the state as a 1st dose vaccine provider. In addition, all state approved locations in McKean County were pulled. At a time when the Commonwealth is initiating and seeking to improve rural health care in underserved communities, this decision does not make sense, nor does it align with previous goals set forth by your administration. These clinics are necessary for the wellbeing of our county’s communities. After several successful and well-organized clinics, our citizens must now scramble to find providers as well as transportation to other counties.
“I ask that you reconsider this decision and allow UPMC Kane and others in McKean County to continue to serve our communities as 1st dose vaccine providers, giving the care and consideration that our citizens deserve.”
When contacted for further comment, Schimp said, “This is a huge setback to our area and is wholly unacceptable.”
Maggi Barton, Deputy Press Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, confirmed the change, explaining, “Last week, Acting Secretary (Alison) Beam announced using a focused network of 200-300 providers to receive first doses of vaccine arriving and will be assured of a steady supply for the next several weeks. Essentially, while the supply of vaccine remains extremely limited, instead of giving very few doses to a lot of different providers each week we will be giving larger quantities of vaccine to fewer providers.”
Barton shared the plans for the focused network, which were also outlined in information released March 19 by Secretary Beam. The chosen providers were selected based on an “extensive analysis,” per Barton, and the intention is to make sure that 95% of the state is covered. Barton also stated that providers receiving large quantities of vaccine are located within a two-mile radius in urban areas, five miles in suburban areas and 30 miles in rural areas.
“This is a temporary shift in that we want to move people from waiting lists to scheduled appointments based on the steady allocation of vaccine that providers who are receiving first doses now know weeks in advance because by focusing the provider network we are guaranteeing them a minimum allotment each week,” Barton stated. “Rather than limit appointments to the number of doses they have on hand, providers are now able to safely schedule weeks in advance to that people will have a date and time certain for when they will be able to receive their vaccine.”
There are no locations in McKean County that are included in this focused network. Instead, the nearest locations follow, with mileage from Main Street, Bradford, to the vaccine provider:
Gaughn’s Drug Store in Warren (34 miles), Ridgway Medical Center (41 miles), Cameron County Health Center in Emporium (45 miles) and St. Marys Pharmacy (45 miles).
When contacted regarding this change to vaccine distribution and the impact on McKean County, State Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, shared his disapproval.
“Governor Wolf recently announced that he is reducing the number of providers who will receive vaccine. The Governor’s vaccine distribution policy has been a chaotic failure from the start and this further exacerbates the lack of vaccine and access in rural areas,” Causer said. “That’s why the State House of Representatives is moving forward legislation to ensure fair distribution of vaccine throughout our state.”
While some residents may consider a trip across the state line to be shorter, the chance of finding a vaccine provider in New York State who will take Pennsylvania residents is slim.
“If it is a clinic run by the New York State Department of Health, vaccine recipients have to be from New York State,” said Dr. Williams Mills, chief medical officer for Upper Allegheny Health System. “For other vaccination clinics run independently of New York State, such as those being offered by pharmacies and even supermarkets, recipients can be from out of state. The challenge is locating those clinics, which can be difficult to find.”