Following Pennsylvania Department of Health directives, St. Luke’s thus far has concentrated its vaccination efforts on Phase 1a priority groups, such as health care employees and first responders. As the health network prepares for the state to move into the next phase of the rollout–as announced Tuesday–St. Luke’s said it has developed a process to allow individuals to sign up for notifications regarding the vaccine.
“We are proceeding in a thoughtful, orderly and safe way,” said Jeffrey Jahre, MD, St. Luke’s Senior VPMA regarding the Department of Health announcement. “As per the state, we are opening scheduling to individuals age 65-plus and those with medical conditions. To avoid lines and chaos, we are prioritizing individuals at the highest risk starting with individuals 75-plus and rapidly working down the list as we have supplies. We anticipate that with increased supplies in manufacturing and the addition of other vaccines, like Johnson & Johnson’s, that there will be rapid increase in our ability to accommodate the entire population.”
As of today, anyone can pre-register for vaccination through the St. Luke’s MyChart portal at Sluhn.org/vaccine. Those who do not have a MyChart account may create one.
After completing a brief questionnaire, MyChart users will be notified when it is their turn to schedule an appointment for the vaccine, which they will be able to do online.
If accessing MyChart via the St. Luke’s mobile app, users can find the COVID-19 Vaccine pre-registration under “Questionnaires.”
Answers to questions related to MyChart can be found online or by calling 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537), and selecting option 5.
Alternatively, individuals who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine (health care providers, nursing home staff and first responders) may call 1-866-STLUKES (785-8537) and select option 7.
St. Luke’s has made substantial investments to create new software, upgrade its Internet servers, expand its telephonic capacity and hire additional staff to accommodate what is expected to be unprecedented demand and ensure a smooth and orderly vaccination process.
“We are taking a thoughtful, steady and even approach to the COVID vaccination rollout,” says Chad Brisendine, vice president and chief information officer for St. Luke’s. “We recognized from the beginning that we not only had to medically treat those afflicted with COVID, but also we had to manage the intense fear and anxiety of the most serious public health crisis we’ve faced in a century. Now that vaccines are rolling out across the country, part of that management is to create a smooth and orderly system that does not overwhelm vaccination capacity. We want to ensure that when we schedule an appointment, we will absolutely have the vaccine to give.”
St. Luke’s receives a weekly allotment of vaccine from the commonwealth, which distributes it to all health systems across Pennsylvania. The exact allotment is subject to change, making planning somewhat of a moving target.
“Our relationship with PA’s department of health is very collaborative and cooperative,” said Tracy Arnold, RN, BSN, director of vaccine management for St. Luke’s. “We are in communication with them frequently and are following the guidelines and rules they set forth.”
Currently, vaccinations are taking place at 11 of St. Luke’s 12 hospital campuses, ensuring easy access throughout the greater Lehigh Valley area, surrounding counties and western New Jersey, while minimizing traffic congestion and lines. The 11 sites offer ample parking. The vaccination process includes on-site appointment scheduling for a booster, so people leave knowing when and where they’ll receive their second shot. (Supplies are reserved for this purpose.) Thus far, St. Luke’s has achieved a vaccination rate of 55 people per hour, or nearly one person a minute. Because the vaccinations are taking place in a hospital setting, patients can be monitored for adverse reactions and provided appropriate treatment if necessary.
“We have not seen any major adverse reactions,” Jahre said. “However, all of our sites have direct access to emergency medical care in case of a severe allergic reaction.”
Who Gets the Vaccine, and When?
Who receives the vaccine and in what order individuals receive it is not up to any individual hospital or health care provider. Vaccine allotments are determined by each state’s Department of Health and distribution is guided by the phased approach prescribed by the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
The PA DOH announced Tuesday that it is expanding Phase 1a to include a broader population. The current vaccine recommendations as outlined by federal and state officials are:
- Initial phase: Health care personnel, first responders and long-term care facility residents.
- Current phase: Individuals age 65 and older and individuals 16-64 with underlying medical conditions.
“Vaccines are an important tool in the prevention and spread of diseases like COVID-19,” Jahre said. “St. Luke’s medical leadership recommends the vaccine as an effective way to protect against COVID-19. However, we must remain vigilant and continue our infection prevention practices such as masking and social distancing.”
Following the rollout of the currently outlined phases, recommendations will be made by the CDC/DOH for vaccinating the remainder of the local population.
The current rollout plan is subject to change, and updates can be found here. Additional information about future phases of vaccine distribution will be communicated as it becomes available. For updates from St. Luke’s, visit Sluhn.org/vaccine.
Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.