The Times Herald (Norristown, PA)
Pennsylvania falling short on vaccines
People want more information about the rollout of coronavirus vaccines in Pennsylvania. And they want it now. We’re hearing it from our readers.
They are complaining that they don’t know when they will be able to get the vaccine or even how to sign up for it. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine told us the information was being put on a website. But many, especially the elderly and people with disabilities, do not have access to the internet. And too many still have questions about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines.
That’s not to cast blame on any one person or agency. It’s certainly not to cast blame on Levine, who clearly needs more resources to tackle the problem. She says the $100 million expected to come soon from the federal government will help provide resources, but it still won’t be enough to meet the need. And there’s no clear date when the money will come and exactly how it will be spent.
And to be fair, the vaccine rollout has been marred from the beginning with misinformation in social media, confused messages coming for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as political posturing in the White House that has caused millions to question the safety and efficacy of rushed vaccines.
To her credit, Levine acknowledges improvement is needed at the state level. “We want to do more, and we want to do better,” she told PennLive’s Editorial Board. But as she refines the rollout plans and responds to ever-changing guidance from the CDC, she might make communicating to the people a priority.
Communication needs to happen not only through press conferences and postings on websites. There must be an urgent grassroots effort to reach people more directly through the organizations, nonprofits and community centers they know and trust.
This is especially true in minority communities. Gloria Merrick, a member of our board and director of the Latino Hispanic American Community Center, says her organization has had little interaction with the Department of Health even though it serves hundreds of Latino families in our region.
An education campaign to provide concrete information about the vaccines and dispel myths now circulating through the Latino community is essential. The same could be said of the African American community.
Too many Black people in our region say they will not take the vaccine because of their distrust of President Donald Trump, who rushed to take credit for its “warp speed” development.
And too many Black people distrust the medical community, which they believe suffers from systemic and historic racism.
So far, neither the Department of Health nor any other state agency has done enough to overcome the misinformation and distrust that is so rampant in minority communities.
It compels us to ask, is anyone advocating for these communities in the hierarchy of the Wolf administration? Who’s at the table representing these communities when decisions are being made about the coronavirus or any other public health issues? Do they even have a voice in the administration’s power structure?
Levine did provide a dose of good news in announcing a plan to open mass vaccination clinics. But again, details have been slow to emerge.
Some time ago Pennsylvanians should have had answers to the basic question of when most of us will be able to get the vaccine and where. At least tell us where to sign up to be on the list to be saved from COVID-19.
We have no doubt Gov. Tom Wolf and the Department of Health are working night and day to try to answer our questions. And we fully accept chaos in the federal government has made their jobs even harder.
But the fact remains, more people in other states are being protected more quickly from COVID-19. And we have a right to know why.