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The COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Plan in Pennsylvania

  • En español | On Jan. 19, Pennsylvania added people 65 and older and adults of any age with serious medical conditions such as cancer or chronic kidney disease to its Phase 1A priority group. Previously, COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna had been limited to health care workers and long-term care residents and staff. Nursing home vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania began the week of Dec. 28.
  • Older adults had previously been grouped in the state's next priority groups, called Phase 1B and Phase 1C. Phase 1B now consists of people living and working in congregate care settings who weren't covered in Phase 1A, first responders, correctional officers, and people who work in food and agriculture, manufacturing and education, among others. And Phase 1C includes several types of essential workers not covered in previous phases, including water and wastewater, information technology and transportation and logistics workers.
  • Vaccine news is changing quickly. Check this guide for updates in days ahead.
Pittsburgh VA Administers Pfizer Vaccinations
Frontline health care workers have been able to make COVID-19 vaccine
appointments in Pennsylvania since mid-December.
Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

When can older adults get the vaccine?

Vaccines opened to people 65 and up on Jan. 19. The state has developed tiered priority groups, following guidance from the CDC. Phase 1A includes people 65 and up, adults of any age with serious medical conditions, health care workers and Pennsylvania’s more than 120,000 long-term care residents, along with long-term care staff.

Next in line is Phase 1B, which includes people living and working in congregate care settings who weren't covered in Phase 1A, first responders, correctional officers, food and agriculture workers, postal workers, manufacturing employees, teachers and other education workers, clergy, public transit employees and certain types of caregivers.

Once more vaccines are available, the state will turn to Phase 1C, which includes a large group of essential workers, including transportation and logistics employees, water and wastewater workers, food service staff and people who work in housing construction, finance, information technology, communications, energy, legal and federal, state, county or local government roles. Public safety and health workers and members of the media are also covered in Phase 1C. Once the state works through Phase 1C, it will distribute vaccines to the general public.

Philadelphia County receives independent federal funding and is devising its own distribution roadmap, which roughly mirrors the state plan.

AARP is fighting for older Americans to be prioritized in getting COVID-19 vaccines because the science has shown that older people are at higher risk of death.

Where can I get a vaccine?  

The state department of health's COVID-19 vaccine page features an interactive map of hospitals, pharmacies and health centers that have received vaccines and may have doses available to Pennsylvanians. But many vaccine providers have either not yet received their dose allocation or have quickly worked through it. You may not be able to immediately schedule an appointment.

Once more vaccine doses are available, a greater number of hospitals, pharmacies, health and urgent care centers, Veterans Affairs hospitals and home health agencies are expected to have vaccines available, according to the state's health department.

How do I know when I’m able to get a vaccine?

State officials have rolled out a vaccine eligibility quiz that will help determine whether you're able to make a vaccine appointment. If you're eligible, the website will help you figure out how and where to get immunized. AARP recommends that you talk to your doctor about the safety, effectiveness, benefits and risks of the COVID-19 vaccine. Older adults, especially those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease and diabetes, are at increased risk for hospitalization and death from COVID-19. 

Follow updates about the vaccine’s availability for various groups on the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s COVID-19 vaccine website. You can also call the department at 877-724-3258 toll-free.

I’ve heard that some vaccines require a second shot.

The initial COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two doses. If you get one of these vaccines, you’ll need a follow-up dose a few weeks later to be effectively immunized. “What you have is you get some degree, not optimal, but some degree of immunity a couple of weeks after the first dose,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in December. “That’s not optimal. After the second dose, you get optimal immunity anywhere from seven to 10 days after the second dose.”

You may receive a vaccination card or printout that tells you where, when and which type of vaccine you received, according to the CDC. Pennsylvania’s interim distribution plan says you’ll be reminded to come back for a second shot after you get your first. Reminders could come via postcards, text messages or phone calls. 

The CDC has launched a web tool called v-safe that lets you sign up for text message reminders for your second vaccine appointment and report possible side effects.

How will nursing home and other long-term care residents get the vaccine?

The federal government has contracted with CVS and Walgreens to administer the COVID-19 vaccines at no cost to long-term care residents and staff. CVS is partnering with more than 40,000 facilities, including nursing homes, assisted living communities and other types of long-term care facilities, to provide vaccines to up to 4 million residents and staff through the program while Walgreens is providing vaccines to up to 3 million residents and staff at roughly 35,000 facilities. Pennsylvania's nursing home vaccine distribution began the week of Dec. 28 at more than 120 facilities during the week of Dec. 28 and expanded during the week of Jan. 4.

Do I have to pay for the vaccination? 

AARP fought to make sure the federal government is covering the cost of the vaccine itself. But the CDC says vaccine providers may still charge a fee for giving someone a shot. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has said the vaccine will be administered free of charge to Medicare beneficiaries, with no copays. Some health insurance companies have also announced that there won’t be out-of-pocket costs for policyholders. Pennsylvania state Sen. Vincent Hughes has said he plans to introduce legislation that would require insurance companies to provide the vaccines at no cost to policyholders.

There are already reports of scammers purporting to offer COVID vaccines and treatments and trying to charge for them. AARP’s Fraud Watch Network is tracking the latest scams.

How long does immunity last after I get vaccinated?

It’s not yet known how long immunity from a coronavirus vaccine lasts and whether it needs to be administered on a regular basis like the flu shot.

Should I still wear a mask after getting vaccinated?

Yes. Experts still need to learn more about the protection the vaccines provide under “real-life conditions,” the CDC says. It could take your body a few weeks to build up immunity after the second dose of a vaccine. And while the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are effective at preventing symptoms of COVID-19, it’s not yet clear whether someone who’s been vaccinated can still catch the virus and transmit it to others.

“It is important to remember again that when the vaccine becomes available it will not be a cure — certainly not an immediate cure or end to the coronavirus pandemic,” Levine said during a recent news conference.

The vaccine is just one tool that can help slow the spread of the coronavirus. The CDC says it could take months for the population to build up immunity, and it continues to recommend preventive measures such as face masks and social distancing. 

AARP has also called for ongoing monitoring of vaccines, once they are authorized for public use, to identify any risks that weren’t evident in the expedited development and review process.

Pennsylvania health officials say you can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 by taking these steps:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Cover your mouth with your elbow when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wear a mask inside businesses or when you can’t social distance.
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This guide was originally published on Dec. 17. It was updated on Jan. 19 with new information about who can get a COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania.

Also of Interest: 

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