Pa. counties aren't receiving the same allotment of vaccine. See how your county ranks
All counties are not created equal, at least not when it comes to vaccine distribution.
The number of doses of COVID-19 vaccine distributed county-to-county varies widely across the state, according to a USA Today network analysis of the first eight weeks of vaccine distribution data provided by the state.
Department of Health Senior Advisor Lindsey Mauldin stressed last week that equity is important when it comes to distributing vaccine.
"It's important to remember that the Pennsylvania Department of Health is responsible for 66 counties," Maudlin said. "We have to maintain equity across those counties."
But that isn't happening.
The median number of vaccine doses received by 65 counties — not including the highest and lowest recipients — is 1,138 doses per 10,0000 residents. That includes all vaccine sent to medical centers, doctors' offices, independent pharmacies and through the Retail Pharmacy Partnership that makes shots accessible to the public at various grocery store and Rite Aid pharmacies.
Thirty-six counties received more than that number, including some counties receiving more than 3,000 doses per 10,000 residents. Twenty-nine received less than the median amount, including 26 that received fewer than 1,000 doses per 10,000 residents in the first eight weeks of vaccine distribution.
Westmoreland County, for instance, has a population of almost 350,000 and has had significant community spread of the virus, but has received 800 doses per 10,000 residents.
There's several examples of this kind of inequity in distribution.
Story continues below graphic
Centre County, population 162,385, received 905 doses per 10,000 residents, compared with Franklin County, population 155,027, which received 1,430 doses per 10,000 residents.
Pike County, with 55,809 residents, received 251 doses per 10,000 residents, while Bradford County, population 60,323, received 3,092 doses per 10,000 residents.
Bucks County, with 628,270 residents, received 1,281 doses per 10,000 residents, and Erie County, with 269,728 residents, received 1,261 doses per 10,000 residents.
York County, which has 449,059 residents, received an even smaller share of the pie with 944 doses per 10,000 residents. Monroe County, with its population of 170,271 received even less at 711 doses per 10,000 residents.
Maggi Barton, deputy press secretary for the Department of Health, said that equity is an important consideration as the state allocates vaccine. Officials follow a formula to determine who gets vaccine based on the previous allocation, the amount on hand for distribution, the amount administered, the population, the amount of the population 65 and older, the county's percent positivity and its death rate.
Some county totals are skewed. For instance, Montour County's Geisinger Medical Center has received more doses of vaccine in two months than the county has residents. But like Lehigh Valley Health Network, the Danville hospital acts as a hub-and-spoke for the Department of Health, elevating the numbers.
"We know that across the state, there are many health care providers, primarily hospitals, that are seen as a hub for care," Barton said. "Geisinger Danville ... is one example, but it is not the only one. Lehigh Valley is the perfect example, based on the concerns we have heard about their allocations. Guthrie in Sayre near the New York border is another, Endless Mountains, in the east, etc. We know that people may cross county lines to seek medical treatment, and that means that they may get vaccinated in a county different from the one in which they live."
But as of Thursday, 5,518 Montour County residents had received at least one dose of vaccine; 2,623 have received both. In total, about 30% of the county has received at least one dose of vaccine, despite an inundation of doses.
Conversely, Beaver County, with a population of 163,929, has received 860 doses per 10,000 residents. Its community-based health system, Heritage Valley, has hosted numerous vaccination clinics for residents of Beaver and western Allegheny age 74 and older, putting shots in the arms of 11,000. They have 5,000 more people scheduled for their shots in the coming weeks.
Norm Mitry, president and CEO of the health system, has said that he could easily schedule double the number of people if he had the doses to do so. Dan Camp, chairman of the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, said he thinks not having a health department is causing Beaver County to not get as many doses as other places. The board is willing to invest in freezers or whatever it would take to bring more vaccine into one of the state's oldest counties.
"I believe that if you have a health department, you are receiving more vaccines because your health department can administer those vaccine," Camp said. "You know, we've reached out, we've lobbied the Department of Health saying that Heritage Valley has been a great partner. They have a great plan in place to distribute vaccines given to the county.
"And because we don't have a health department, I believe that's one of the reasons why we're not seeing an abundant amount of vaccine coming in."
Maudlin said that teamwork will play a role in the continued rollout of vaccine, but wouldn't address whether those areas with a municipal or county health department were ahead of the game.
"As we continue to build out this plan, we'll be looking at how local providers are working together," Maudlin said. "We'll continue to work in lockstep with them to make sure that we can allocate all of these vaccines."
Maudlin said that patience is the virtue needed as all Pennsylvanians deal with the frustration of higher vaccine demand than supply.
"I think again patience is something that we'll all have to rely on as we move forward in this process," Maudlin said. "I know it's frustrating and we're all working through it, but I can assure you that we are hopeful and continue to strive to ensure that folks who want vaccination can get it."
Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for the Beaver County Times. You can reach her quickly at email@example.com. Give her a follow on Twitter @DK_NewsData