The inoculation of Indiana County residents against the novel coronavirus at the root of the COVID-19 pandemic will be an uncertain process as the year unfolds because of ever-changing and inconsistent information coming from Harrisburg, county leaders said Wednesday.
A priority list of groups to get the shots first may be the only constant but how many doses will be sent to the county and when they will be delivered remain in question, Indiana County Emergency Management Agency Director Thomas Stutzman said.
Tentatively, a mass vaccination clinic is to be held in Indiana County. But although planning began in September, a site hasn’t been decided, Stutzman said.
The county also has been targeted for another community testing site in February, he said.
What also remains vague, Stutzman said, are the figures being published online by Pennsylvania Department of Health and the realities being experienced in the county.
First- and second-round vaccinations for healthcare professionals, those in the top-priority 1A group, haven’t been completed, he said. So far only 975 doses have been delivered for Indiana Regional Medical Center staff and frontline EMS workers such as Citizens’ Ambulance Service and Lifestat Ambulance paramedics, according to his stats. Senior citizens, age 65 and older, categorized as group 1B, haven’t had theirs yet.
But that’s where Stutzman takes pause.
The health department’s vaccination dashboard Wednesday reported 1,316 people in Indiana County have had the first dose and have 331 had the second shot of vaccine.
Daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths for the county also don’t always jibe, Stutzman said.
“The statistics on the Department of Health website are gathered from locations all throughout the commonwealth where Indiana County residents have been tested and treated,” he explained. “So, it’s very difficult for the county to look at local numbers generated by our hospital or by hospitals in contiguous counties and come up with a number that is close to or equal to any of the numbers the health department provides.”
Stutzman said that because of dips and spikes in daily numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths, the state’s figures likely do not accurately represent what happened in any given 24-hour period.
Another contradiction within the state’s data, Stutzman said, was between a list of locations for vaccinations shown on a map of Pennsylvania, indicating four sites in Indiana County and one with doses on hand, while a separate list of vaccine distribution points on the state website omitted that Indiana County site.
“There is some confusion out there as to where vaccines are available, and who can administer them,” Stutzman said. “So, I would like to ask everyone to be patient; the process is in the works. We are going to work as best we can with the Department of Health Plan and work through each of the groups identified from the CDC level on down.”
The day-to-day nature of the state’s plan even meant uncertainty for Stutzman, in his comments at the bi-monthly meeting of the Indiana County board of commissioners, as he said he expected to learn more later in the day of a community COVID-19 testing program to be set up next month in Indiana.
Stutzman said the test site hasn’t been chosen, and the weather would determine whether folks could be tested in their cars or have to park and walk in to a test center. It’s tentatively set for Feb. 13 to 18.
“This will be similar to the one we held last fall when the Department of Health provided a private contractor who did the COVID testing free,” Stutzman said.
The vaccination clinic planning is going the same way.
“The plan as it was issued initially … has shown that the Department of Health is looking at a mass vaccination facility somewhere in Indiana County,” Stutzman said. “The logistics that are involved are numerous. Obviously at this time of year, and even in the next couple of months, we would have weather to contend with. So, a decision coming from the Department of Health on whether this will be a walk-up or drive-through or however they want to configure that — we want to work with them to support that.”
Holding the clinic near Indiana Regional Medical Center would be important if the vaccine needs to be kept in cold storage, such as the facility already available at the hospital, he said.
“There’s a lot of new information coming out, it’s constantly changing and it’s very fluid. And it’s all dependent on the availability of vaccine … and there’s only a sufficient amount in Indiana County for group 1A.”