Penn State nursing students help administer vaccines at Fayette clinic

Holly Hendershot | Herald-Standard

Penn State junior nursing student Jadyn Barnish administers the COVID-19 vaccine to Carol Panek.

Pennsylvanians who have grown frustrated about navigating the state’s decentralized system in search of the COVID-19 vaccine could have an alternative.

A new bill introduced Monday in the state House of Representatives seeks to create a centralized COVID-19 vaccination registry for people who want to get the vaccine.

The “COVID-19 Vaccine Registry Act” would require the Pennsylvania Department of Health to maintain a database where residents could schedule a vaccine appointment for themselves, their spouses or significant others, and their families.

Vaccine providers would be required access the registry and prioritize registrants for scheduling appointments, which would prevent people from spending hours trying to find and sign up for available appointments.

Registrants also could indicate how far they are willing to travel to be vaccinated.

The bill was co-sponsored by Reps. Pam Snyder (D-Greene/Fayette/Washington), Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie), Jennifer O’Mara (D-Delaware) and Austin Davis (D-Allegheny).

Snyder said her office has fielded hundreds and hundreds of phone calls from frustrated Southwestern Pennsylvanians since the vaccine rollout began.

“People were online for hours at a time or on the phone, calling repeatedly trying to get an appointment. They didn’t have anywhere to turn; they want the vaccine and they wanted to get on a list,” said Snyder.

Snyder said she and her co-sponsors have repeatedly pushed the DOH for a central registration system.

“It’s one thing not to have enough vaccines, but people would be a little more patient if they knew they were on the list and were going to get a call,” she said.

Snyder said there are more than 1,700 providers statewide, and the creation of a database would allow residents to register one time and then be alerted when a vaccination appointment became available.

“This would alleviate the frustration and challenge of checking for appointments at multiple providers across multiple locations.”

Bizzarro, chairman of the House Democratic Policy Committee, acknowledged the frustration and helplessness residents have felt as they try to get vaccination appointments.

“We cannot flounder any longer without a plan which allows people to easily register for vaccine access for themselves and their families. The frustration is real and growing,” said Bizzarro.

Right now, the only way for Pennsylvanians to book a vaccination appointment is to directly contact an individual provider. A map of providers is available on the DOH website.

“The bottom line is, every delay in effectively and efficiently distributing this vaccine is another day this pandemic will continue. Hope is here and in the hands of our health care workers. We are grateful for all they are doing to keep people healthy and safe, and we have to give them the tools to distribute this vaccine,” said O’Mara.

There are counties and states that have successfully operated their own centralized vaccination registries, including Fayette County, where its COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force has been up and running since Feb. 8.

Directed by the Fayette Emergency Management Agency and the Fayette Chamber of Commerce, the task force has administered nearly 8,000 first doses to phase 1A-eligible people and has vaccinated about 40% of the county’s veterans.

Fayette County Commissioner Chairman Dave Lohr said about 23,000 people have signed up for vaccine appointments on the registry.

Their data is made available to all of the county’s vaccine providers, and those providers – including WVU Medicine Uniontown Hospital, Highlands Hospital, Centerville Clinics, Cornerstone Care, Oak Valley Medical, Hunter Pharmacy, Rite Aid, Giant Eagle and Perry Drug – notify registrants when they have the vaccine and schedule their appointments.

“The task force had things literally ready to go when vaccines came out, and it’s clicking,” said Lohr.

Washington Health System, the largest provider of COVID-19 vaccines in Washington and Greene counties, also has successfully implemented a centralized registration system. The health system currently has more than 29,000 registrants who have signed up for the vaccine on its website.

“Washington Health System and Fayette County, along with Cornerstone Care, have all done a tremendous job in getting the vaccine out,” said Snyder. “They’re great examples of how this should be done.”

The bill will go to the health committee for discussion.

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