As the COVID-19 vaccine rolls out unevenly in Pennsylvania, Elk County is a leader in administration of shots. The rural county ranks second in the rate of fully vaccinated residents in the commonwealth, according to the Department of Health’s dashboard Tuesday.
Montour County, where Geisinger Health is headquartered in Danville, has the highest rate of residents who are fully inoculated.
The state has allocated about 17,000 shots to Elk County so far. At least 7,000 of those doses were administered by the independent, family-owned St. Marys Pharmacy. Owner Frank Straub said they’ve already held two mass vaccination clinics at the local high school.
“We did one vaccine every 12 seconds for six hours,” Straub said. The pharmacy held a clinic for 1,850 people to get their first doses in January and a second dose clinic for the group in February.
The pharmacy served long term care facilities early on but has given shots to eligible recipients from across the state since then. The Pennsylvania Department of Health said there are four main factors in deciding the number of doses providers get each week: county population, population over 65, number of positive COVID-19 cases, and number of COVID-19 deaths.
About 19,000 people remain on St. Marys Pharmacy’s waiting list. Straub said the vaccine supply is “unbelievably important” and wished the state would guarantee doses to help providers get shots in arms.
With support from the school and help from about 60 volunteers, Straub said the pharmacy has the ability to run more mass vaccination clinics smoothly. But he said he worries about a Department of Health mandate that would cut the number of providers giving shots because of limited vaccine supply.
“If they’re going to pare down from, say, 1,700 providers to two or three hundred,” Straub said, “We don’t know if we’re going to be one of those providers, so it’s really hard to just start planning another clinic.”
He added, “turning off the faucet” of access to vaccines is “going to the wrong direction.”
The state said this is a temporary measure while supply is far below the demand, and that providers who meet the requirements detailed in the Feb. 12 mandate will continue to receive doses. But the Department of Health wouldn’t give a specific number of providers that will continue to get vaccines.
Straub said, for now, St. Marys Pharmacy is focusing on administering 1,000 Moderna shots each week.