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Local officials: Lack of trust, few resources cause delays

PHOTO PROVIDED Caroline McNamara, RN, ICU, from UPMC Williamsport receives the COVID-10 vaccine.

WILLIAMSPORT– Although vaccinations continue to roll out at a good pace, local health care officials say the process would go faster if not for a lack of trust and too few resources getting COVID vaccines into arms.

Eagerness and trust in science is low in the rural areas of the state with 25 percent of Williamsport residents and 30 percent of Lock Haven residents not willing to learn about or receive the vaccine, UPMC Susquehanna region president and CEO Steve Johnson said at a virtual meeting Wednesday morning.

And the 70 to 75 percent who are eager and have the willingness to gather resources and trust in the science of both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccinations are a majority of those in those brackets of vulnerability –ages 65 or over, with pre-existing conditions or both, Johnson continued.

“Rural Americans are less likely to get the vaccine. Older rural adults are more likely to get it,” Dr. Cary Funk, of PEW Research Center, said.

With more information and resources about the science behind the vaccinations, along with stories and campaigns from other people who are hesitant, they may change their minds, she said.

PHOTO PROVIDED A close up of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at a UPMC facility.

Others involved in the virtual meeting included State Sen. Gene Yaw, Department of Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine and state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski. Dr. George Garrow of the Primary Health Network also attended.

“If we want to immunize we are going to need more people, more nurses more technicians,” Garrow said. “If the state can help the organizations hire more people that would be a huge help. That is what is holding us back right now.”

Pashinski suggested bringing in National Guard technicians who could help administer the vaccinations at local hospitals. No decisions were made on this, although Garrow said he favored the idea.

In addition, Johnson said some local rural health care systems don’t have the resources to store the Pfizer vaccines that have to be held at ultra-cold temperatures and then have to be transferred to the vials and mixed by physicians before technicians administer the vaccine to patients.

“That adds additional costs,” he said.

PHOTO PROVIDED Wendy Batschelet, clinical director, Emergency Services, of UPMC Williamsport receives the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Levine noted that distributions for the vaccinations, both Pfizer and Moderna, will also be available through the Walgreens and CVS pharmacies as well as through doctors’ offices, hospitals and hospital clinics.

Of course, Johnson said there aren’t a multitude of chain pharmacies in the rural areas.

Garrow said that Primary Health Network will be starting a mobile vaccine unit and it will be in use in the more rural areas of the state as supplies of vaccinations become available. He could not give a timeline on when and where that might begin.

It was noted that vaccine is coming directly from Operation Warp Speed, which is a partnership initiated by the United States government that helps speed the process in which vaccines are being allocated. With that, the vaccinations are free.

According to Levine, the AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are close or have already finished their clinical trials and are set to discuss emergency use authentications in early spring.

“We don’t know exactly when we are going to get to phase two (general public),” Levine said. “If we get two more vaccines, it will increase the chances.”

“The key to getting passed (COVID-19) is the vaccine,” Levine said. “I don’t have a concern about the EUA’s. They had robust clinical trials. We have complete confidence.”

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