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Hospital and county committed to vaccine distribution once available

Uniontown Hospital Pharmacy Director, William Johnson removes a vial of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine from the shipment received by Uniontown Hospital in mid-December.

By Jennifer Garofalo jgarofalo@heraldstandard.com

WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital officials know getting the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of community members is key to controlling the spread of a virus that has killed more than 200 Fayette County residents since March.

The problem is, they don’t have shots to distribute, nor do they know when they will.

“I think there is a misconception in the community that we have vaccines here and available and are sitting on them. We are not,” Josh Krysak, director of community relations at Uniontown Hospital, said Thursday.

“We don’t have vaccines available and while the state has indicated an expansion of Phase 1A to include certain segments of the population, and while we have made it clear that we want to procure more vaccines, the issue still remains that we do not currently have vaccines and we just don’t know when we will be receiving additional shipments,” he said.

Under the state’s revised vaccination plan, released Tuesday, those 65 and older, and those 16-64 with certain underlying medical conditions are now eligible to receive the shots. Pregnant women also can get vaccinated.

But the leader of the state’s vaccine task force, Cindy Findley, said while eligibility is expanding, the allotment of doses the state is receiving from the federal government is not increasing.

Earlier this week, Fayette County established a task force, including multiple agencies like Uniontown Hospital, to help streamline distribution of the vaccine as it becomes available. As part of that, Fayette County Emergency Management Agency is establishing a registration process to aid groups eligible to be vaccinated.

Fayette EMA officials are asking those who work in group settings who are eligible for vaccination to designate a singular contact person. That person can email the agency at covidinfo@fcema.org, or call the county’s hotline, established Thursday, at 724-466-4142 to start the registration process for all in that group.

Hospital CEO Dr. David Hess said the hospital is working closely with the task force and all of its partners, including county commissioners, Fayette EMA, Highlands Hospital, Fayette EMS, the Fayette Chamber of Commerce, Intermediate Unit 1, state Sen. Patrick Stefano, state Rep. Matthew Dowling and state Rep. Ryan Warner.

“We recognize the large amount of information that is out there and the frustration regarding getting concrete answers, but we want our patients and our community to know that we are working with the county and local and state elected leaders to ensure that we are getting the vaccine as quickly as possible and into the arms of area residents eligible to receive them,” he said.

Krysak said the hospital is “fielding hundreds of calls every day – people calling for their parents, people calling that work in the health care industry, people calling that have preexisting conditions – and while we understand the urgency, we simply don’t have answers yet.”

The hospital received its initial shipment of 975 doses of the Pfizer vaccine in mid-December, inoculating staff who wished to receive the shot. About 30% of that shipment also went toward vaccinating community physicians, EMS and others who were eligible to receive the vaccine under the 1A designation set at the time by the state.

Krysak said hospital officials finished handing out the second shot of the two-dose regimen on Wednesday.

According to the state’s vaccine dashboard, 3,719 Fayette residents have been partially vaccinated, and 1,462 have been fully vaccinated. When those who are partially vaccinated get the second dose, that equates to about 4% of the county’s population of nearly 130,000.

On Thursday, Fayette County’s number of new COVID-19 cases continued to trend downward after a spike in positive cases last month. The state Department of Health reported 48 new cases, raising the county’s total cases to 9,225. An additional five deaths were reported, bringing the county total to 203.

As the county waits to receive more vaccines, Krysak said the hospital remains committed to being a distribution point.

“We know there are a lot of questions. As the targets continue to change for the phases and we await vaccines, we, quite frankly, have a lot of questions, too. We are working to try and get some answers so we can best coordinate this effort,” Krysak said.

To see which places in Fayette County are vaccinating, or will have the vaccine available for distribution, visit health.pa.gov and click on the COVID-19 vaccine tab.

A secondary link on the page, “Where can I get vaccinated?” provides an interactive map of providers in each county.