It is no secret that Governor Wolf’s Administration and the General Assembly have frequently been at odds throughout the last year, often disagreeing on critical policy decisions to address the pandemic.
While my colleagues and I have consistently urged bipartisan collaboration between the Wolf Administration and members of the General Assembly so that we could all work together to the benefit of the people of Pennsylvania, achieving consensus proved difficult, particularly when the Administration repeatedly acted unilaterally on measures related to COVID-19.
Finally, on February 12, the Joint COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force was established, and I was appointed to serve alongside my colleagues Senator Art Haywood (D-4), Representative Bridget Kosierowski (D-114), Representative Tim O’Neal (R-48), and members of the Wolf Administration.
While much work remains, Pennsylvania has undoubtedly made tremendous progress with our vaccine rollout since the formation of this Task Force in mid-February. The Task Force model has given me the opportunity to take feedback from Pennsylvanians, vaccine providers, my colleagues in the Senate, and other stakeholders directly to the Governor and his Administration.
For example, one of my colleagues spoke to me about concerns he had with the distance some constituents have had to travel to be vaccinated. While regional mass vaccination clinics are the solution for many Pennsylvanians, it is certainly not the answer for all communities. The Task Force is now working to ensure that our provider network reflects this. Another colleague contacted me about the importance of vaccinating college students prior to them returning home for the summer. I brought this concern to the Task Force and shortly thereafter we moved to expand to universal eligibility so these students could be vaccinated. Finally, I heard from many of my colleagues advocating for local pharmacists and primary care physicians to play a larger role in administering vaccines to vulnerable populations. The Task Force is now looking to elevate the role these parties play in our vaccination plan as we seek to address remaining access and hesitancy issues.
It is precisely because we brought this feedback from stakeholders and legislators to the table that we were able to work collaboratively, successfully, and swiftly to implement necessary changes to improve Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout.
The success of the Joint Task Force is not just anecdotal, but there are data to support the conclusion that the Task Force improved outcomes for Pennsylvanians, including the following key metrics:
- On February 12, 2021 Pennsylvania ranked 49th in the nation in percentage of Pennsylvanian’s having received the 1st dose of vaccine. Today, we were ranked 10th in the nation and 1st among the top ten most populous states.
- On February 12, 2021 our overall CDC statewide administration rate (% of all deliveries that have been administered) was 63%. Two months later, that rate was 83%.
- 2% of our 65+ population has received at least one dose, exceeding the national average for this age group of 81.5% and ranking PA at 3rd in the nation for serving our seniors.
- 7% of Pennsylvanians have received at least one dose of vaccine, exceeding the national average of 42.3%.
- 2% of our population is now fully vaccinated, just exceeding the national average of 29.5%.
[Please note that, unless indicated otherwise, these numbers are current as of April 27, 2021.]
The increased supply of vaccine, the outstanding work of our provider network, and the implementation of the Task Force’s updated strategic plan positioned Pennsylvania to dramatically accelerate the expansion of eligibility, ensuring universal eligibility for adults interested in vaccination weeks ahead of schedule.
Supply projections put Pennsylvania on course to have enough vaccine to vaccinate 100% of interested Pennsylvania adults by the week of June 7, 2021.
Bringing more voices – including dissenting voices – to the table has undoubtedly contributed to a more thoughtful, responsive, and successful vaccination strategic plan. It is my hope that the success of this task force will serve as model for handling statewide emergencies and other significant government undertakings moving forward.
The progress of the task force model clearly demonstrates that we can respond to a crisis in real-time, and improve outcomes, when the Governor and General Assembly work together.
This is how government can and should work.