Wolf, DOH rightly under fire for botched, unfair vaccine rollout

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times @mikemcgannpa

Depending on who you talk to, Pennsylvania’s vaccine program is either going swimmingly, or it is a bungled mess, with lower than the national average per capita of vaccine in arms, while the state Department of Health (DOH) is intentionally shortchanging the collar counties — the same counties that did the best job in containing the COVID-19 virus and have the most ability to locally manage vaccinations.

Gov. Tom Wolf and his administration have been increasingly under fire with claims of a poor roll out of the COVID-19 vaccine and failing to fairly distribute it to the southeastern suburban counties, including Chester County.

If you talk to folks from the Wolf Administration, they crow about the state’s relative recent success as compared with other states: only New Mexico has a higher per-capita rate of shots in arms in the last week. So far, DOH says Pennsylvania has managed about 4.1 million shots in arms to date (CDC figures say 4.6 million, which includes about 600K shots in Philadelphia, not reflected in the DOH totals) — with 1.47 million having had two shots or the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to DOH. That means in rough terms nearly 25% of the eligible population, 18 and over, has gotten one or two shots. DOH says the seven-day moving average has 83,000 shots a day being administered in the commonwealth.

The Centers for Disease Control, has a less than sunny analysis: Pennsylvania is 30th overall per capita in getting shots in arms — just slightly better than basket case states such as Florida and Texas.

DOH has reworked — after weeks of complaints — how it distributes vaccines, doing a more targeted job of getting them to those groups/local governments best able to get shots in arms, which seems reflected in the newest numbers. State officials are painting an improving and rosy picture, which recent numbers seem to bear out.

But local officials will tell you another tale: they say Chester County has been shorted about 25,000 shots on a per-capita basis. A detailed analysis by The Philadelphia Inquirer showed the southeast got the least vaccine — about half the number sent to the state’s northwest corner — of any region in the state, despite having the highest population density. The southeast was also the hardest hit region of the state. 

Acting state health secretary Alison Beam denies this claim, saying that according to DOH metrics, everyone is getting their fair share. Now, the collar counties are sparring with DOH over placing a pair of regional vaccine sites — the counties don’t want them, and want the vaccine to move through county health departments, which local officials say can do a better job of getting the vaccine to those most in need.

Even with those issues, things are improving.

As of Friday, Chester County, 55,893 are fully vaccinated and another 53,379 have had their first shot, which, based on about 450,000 residents (those over 18) being eligible puts the county in line with the statewide progress in getting shots in arms. Additionally, reports surfaced this week that appointments for the 1A were becoming more available by the end of this past week and vaccine supply has been increasing in recent weeks.

Yes, this could be a matter of poor — very poor — communication by the Wolf Administration and DOH. Actually, it is hard to argue that it is not: if you can’t make the case to county commissioners/county council members and state legislators in both parties, you’ve either done something wrong and/or stupid or have a grossly incompetent communications strategy. Wolf and DOH have suffered from a lack understanding of the facts on the ground and a certain amount of arrogance in dismissing the valid concerns of local officials.

There’s a right and wrong to all this and a massive political impact, neither of which seems to have penetrated the Wolf Administration’s alleged thinking on this issue.

Okay, let’s start with right and wrong.

First, it cannot be argued that the counties in the southeast got hit hardest, had the longest shutdown restrictions and — yes — actually largely complied with masking up, keeping distant, keeping our restaurants and bars closed. In short, while other counties (and their elected officials) ignored, flaunted and mocked the restrictions, Chester County and its sister collar counties took the pandemic seriously and continue to do so.

As densely populated areas, we remain the most vulnerable to the virus. So, if there was any logic involved, Chester County and the suburbs would be getting MORE than the per capita share, not less. So DOH is wrong on the science. There are higher distribution rates in counties such as Cameron than any county in the southeast — a county that literally only has only a bit more population than my voting precinct (Pocopson). 

This makes no sense.

Also, consider the morality: are we really rewarding counties and populations that ignored Wolf’s orders to keep people safe and punishing those counties who actually took it seriously?

And then there are the politics of the matter. Yes, politics does matter.

With Democrats desperately needing to outperform in the southeast in the 2022 U.S. Senate and Governor races, it seems like kinda really, really bad politics to even allow the perception that Wolf and DOH (and by extension, Democrats) are screwing over the collar counties.

And let me be clear on this: without Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Bucks driving big vote, Democrats will not win in 2022. Period. Will independents and moderate Republicans take this personally? Undoubtedly, especially if Republicans bludgeon Democratic candidates with the issue.

So, the science is bad. The morality is bad. And the politics? Nuclear explosion bad.

Wolf needs to do two things: first, admit that things are less than optimal. This Andrew Cuomo-esque refusal to accept the facts on the ground is not a good look, deeply frustrating to local officials and horrific politics. Take responsibility and then pivot to…

Fix. The. System. 

Don’t shove regional sites down the throats of southeast local officials. These are counties that with one exception (Delaware) have full time real Health Departments (and Chester County is now serving as such for the time being for pandemic issues for Delco). They have infrastructure and know their communities. 

Put vaccine in their hands and get out of the way.

People can forgive mistakes if you own them and move to fix them. While we’re seeing some indications of the latter, we need to see the former.

And now wouldn’t be too soon.

   Send article as PDF   

Share this post:

Related Posts


  1. J says:

    Chester County PA is a place that should’ve been given their share of vaccine. The disgusting result is a desperate scramble of climbing on the backs of canceled appointments and late night and early morning rushes to store appointments registered for a fee. Going out of the county for a chance. Driving hours upon hours to get a shot. This is not happening elsewhere. It breaks my heart for the county. And the wonderful people here. It defies explanation.

  2. Patrick Henry, the 2nd says:

    They should also be under fire for killing thousands of granny’s with their retirement home policies last year, just like Cuomo is!

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.