Four Democrat state senators announced on Saturday their intent to establish a Covid-19 vaccine registration database they hope will smooth the bumpy rollout of vaccines across the commonwealth.
In the press release, the state senators expressed frustration at how the initial distribution has progressed in Pennsylvania, which is near the bottom in state vaccination levels. One senator aimed remarks directly at the Department of Health, while another said the process so far is “failing” millions of Pennsylvanians.
“For weeks, my colleagues and I have urged the Department of Health to make changes to the vaccine rollout, including more centralized registration, distribution and oversight systems,” state Senator Maria Collett (D-Bucks, Montgomery) said. “A statewide vaccine registration database could help streamline this process and restore our constituents’ faith that, though it may take time, they will receive the vaccines to which they are entitled in a fair and transparent manner.”
The senators’ move to establish the registry through legislation came days after the DOH announced a mistake in which tens of thousands of shots intended for the second “booster” dose of the Moderna vaccine were instead given to patients as a first dose.
The error has left the state scrambling to try to find enough second doses to complete the full regimen for those who got a first shot when they shouldn’t have. Between 30,000 and 60,000 Pennsylvanians scheduled to get the second dose are now awaiting new appointments.
READ MORE — Christen Smith: Vaccine doses misallocated in Pennsylvania as intended second doses given out as first doses
“The roll out of the Covid-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania has been fragmented, hard to navigate, and has left behind our most vulnerable and at-risk populations,” said Senator Amanda Cappelletti (D-Delaware/Montgomery). “I’ve joined in pushing for this crucial legislation because the best way to end confusion and improve our vaccine roll out is to centralize the registry and make the process easier for all Pennsylvanians.”
Senator Lindsey Williams (D-Allegheny), said “we are failing the millions of Pennsylvanians who need a straightforward, accessible, and consistent way to sign up for their Covid vaccine.”
Similar legislation has already been introduced in the State House of Representatives. The legislative memo said, “the restrictions of a Commonwealth do not permit us to create a statewide database of available appointments,” but does not give specifics on any legal hurdles.
Meanwhile, a separate media report seemed to indicate the DOH is hesitating to move on its own.
‘The action by these Democratic legislators is a pretty clear indication that they’re frustrated by the Wolf Administration’s bungling of the vaccination program.’
“The Department of Health has said it remains open to adjusting its decentralized approach, but that no statewide appointment managing resource is being developed,” according to WITF.
A Washington Post vaccination tracking project ranks Pennsylvania 46th out of 59 U.S. states and territories, when compared on a per capita basis. Using data compiled through Friday, Becker’s Hospital Review ranked Pennsylvania 42nd out of the 50 states.
“The action by these Democratic legislators is a pretty clear indication that they’re frustrated by the Wolf Administration’s bungling of the vaccination program,” said Charlie Gerow, a longtime GOP consultant and political analyst.
“There’s a legitimate question as to whether the creation of such a registry requires a new statute. But Republican leaders in the legislature are saying they want to take a serious look at the proposal. That says a lot.”
Gov. Wolf’s office referred questions from Broad + Liberty to the Department of Health. In doing so, the office refused to give comment on whether the senators were taking action out of disappointment or frustration with the administration, and whether the Wolf administration could move on its own and create such a database without legislative approval.
DOH did not respond over the weekend, but this story will be updated if a comment is provided later.
A week ago, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette identified troubles with the registration software, PrepMod, that the state purchased to help create an orderly queue.
“The Pennsylvania Department of Health paid $852,000 for the software — and is now weighing whether to use it in soon-to-be-created mass vaccination clinics,” the paper reported. “But according to officials whose clinics serve Allegheny and four other counties, the program has serious flaws: It can’t create private appointment links, it overbooks clinics, it sends patients incorrect or conflicting scheduling reminders, and it lets people make appointments even if they aren’t eligible for the vaccine.”
Then on Thursday, DOH acting director Allison Beam admitted to its mistake surrounding the Moderna doses. Beam is set to replace Dr. Rachel Levine after she was nominated by President Biden to become the federal assistant secretary of health.
Beam had already faced separate grillings over vaccinations from the legislature earlier in the month, where Democrats were not shy about providing criticism.
“A lot of people have talked about the incredible frustration and lack of transparency of information. I am among them,” Collet said at the time.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter.