Wolf administration: “Pennsylvania is on par or doing a better job providing first doses than every other state with a large population of older adults,” one of the news releases said.
But… but… but… “when it comes to the percentage of seniors who are fully vaccinated, the state is 49th, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”
The elderly… seniors, you know… the ones most at risk “about 88% of the state’s deaths.”
“…officials of the health department and governor’s office said they based their figures on the overall population getting the vaccine and were unaware of how the state ranked among the elderly.”
Joel Jacobs, Ashley Murray and Jonathan D. Silver Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Mar 21, 2021
In a state where tens of thousands of elderly residents have perished from the coronavirus, recent press releases from the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the governor’s office cast the state in an envious position when it comes to its vaccine rollout.
In three statements last week, Pennsylvania said it was getting residents their shots against COVID-19 at a higher rate than every state in the nation with large senior populations.
“Pennsylvania is on par or doing a better job providing first doses than every other state with a large population of older adults,” one of the news releases said.
But records show Pennsylvania actually is doing far worse when it comes to vaccinating seniors and, in fact, is near the bottom for older people getting their doses.
Instead of being at the top, numbers from the federal government show the state ranks in the lowest tier — 46th — when it comes to the rate of people 65 and older who have received their first dose.
And when it comes to the percentage of seniors who are fully vaccinated, the state is 49th, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The claims by the state came as older residents struggled to get their vaccines, in some cases driving to Ohio, West Virginia and New Jersey, and in others navigating a system that, like others across the country, has been described as fragmented, confusing and slow.
“It’s not good,” said Diane Menio, a Philadelphia advocate for the elderly. “I was using the state map and it was ridiculous. Every place I clicked on had no vaccine.”
In an interview with the Post-Gazette, officials of the health department and governor’s office said they based their figures on the overall population getting the vaccine and were unaware of how the state ranked among the elderly.
Sara Goulet, deputy press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf, said that in future press releases, “our goal is to provide more information.” She acknowledged that the Post-Gazette’s analysis was accurate, but said neither the governor’s office nor the health department believed the releases were misleading.
Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director of AARP Pennsylvania, questioned why the state compared itself to other states with large senior populations when accuracy in the numbers is critical to seniors.
“This goes back to transparency,” he said. “I would love to know the true percentage when comparing to other states. I think that especially the 65-plus, the older Pennsylvanians, they just want to know.”
For weeks, advocates for elderly people have been calling the health department and other agencies to speed up a distribution program created to initially get the vaccine to the most vulnerable groups, including older people, those with serious underlying medical conditions and health-care workers.
Since the onslaught of the pandemic last year, older adults have borne the brunt of the virus’ toll: In Pennsylvania, more than 22,000 seniors have died from the virus — about 88% of the state’s deaths, according to the CDC.
An informal survey last month by AARP Pennsylvania of more than 3,400 members found that most had tried to get an appointment, but only 27% had been successful.
“It is like the Wild West, totally decentralized and frustrating,” Gilda Kramer of Montgomery County was quoted in the AARP survey.
But most of the states that the department said were lagging behind Pennsylvania, including Florida and Ohio, were doing better with their seniors.
For Pennsylvania to catch up to the rate of California, the largest state, it would have to vaccinate about 270,000 more seniors.
Ms. Menio, the elder advocate, said she knows firsthand the frustrations of getting a vaccine.
She’s 65, has an underlying condition and couldn’t land an appointment for a shot in her area. So next week she’s taking the two-hour drive to Harrisburg from Philadelphia to get her second Pfizer dose.
“I think it’s just that it’s been haphazard,” she said. “There’s no one way to get a vaccine.”
Ms. Menio said she wasn’t surprised that the governor’s office was promoting Pennsylvania’s vaccine efforts in a positive way while not addressing its poor showing with the state’s elderly population.
“That’s their job, I guess,” she said.
Post-Gazette staff writer Sean Hamill contributed to this report.
First Published March 21, 2021, 5:30am