Trying to decipher the order in which various groups may receive the COVID vaccine can be confusing. That’s why state officials have developed an online guide to help citizens determine their eligibility, find a vaccine provider and schedule an appointment.
Earlier this month, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine hosted a virtual town hall in which she answered questions about the distribution of COVID vaccine doses. Levine mentioned the tiered groups the vaccine would be distributed through, however new guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was already forcing health networks across the country to alter who they will vaccinate next.
Viewers tuning in to the event may have been left wondering whether or not they can begin scheduling their vaccine appointments, or perhaps they tried navigating rapidly changing information on the internet to determine where they fall in line.
Levine also mentioned that the PA Department of Health was working on a tool for their website which would help people determine their vaccine eligibility status. That tool is now live, and although demand for the vaccine is currently exceeding supply in most cases, Pennsylvanians are being encouraged to use it if they’re unsure of their status.
The guide begins with a quiz to determine various things such as the person’s age, occupation, pre-existing health conditions and what type of care facility they live in, if applicable.
The second step in the determination process involves locating a vaccine provider on a map of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia has its own vaccine distribution program).
Visitors to the site may search for a provider using their address or zip code, and the map will display vaccine providers in their area as a green or red dot, based on whether or not that location has received vaccine doses. Clicking on the dots displays information such as the name of the organization providing the vaccine, its address, website, phone number, email and contact name, if applicable. As of Monday, nine of the 19 vaccine providers in the Lehigh Valley did not have doses available, according to the map.
Those eligible for the vaccine may contact the vaccination provider of their choice using the contact information provided in the map, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday with self-reported information from providers.
The guide also displays an example of what the vaccination record card looks like. The card–which is given to individuals after they receive their first dose–includes identifying information for the person receiving the dose, as well as which version of the dose they received, and when and where they received it.
The back of the card contains a reminder to return for a second dose on the specified date. All versions of the COVID vaccine are being administered in two doses.
The Department of Health is still recommending all individuals, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated, continue to wear a mask in public and around people from outside of their household, practice social distancing, avoid crowds, practice good health habits and download the COVID Alert PA mobile app.
“The COVID vaccine–while showing extremely promising results–is like every other vaccine in that no vaccine is ever 100 percent effective,” the state’s website says. “We must continue our best-known risk reduction measures to keep all people safe.”
The website includes other helpful information, such as guidance on how to prepare for your COVID vaccine. Health officials recommend checking with a health care provider to make sure the vaccine is right for you, staying home as much as possible to avoid exposure to COVID and other tips.
Local health providers are also doing their part to help inform the community about when they can receive a COVID vaccine.
St. Luke’s University Health Network (SLUHN) is using their MyChart application to notify members of the community when they become eligible for a vaccine. Once a MyChart account is created, individuals simply complete a brief questionnaire. When it is their turn, MyChart users will be notified and prompted to schedule an appointment.
“Even if you are eligible to receive a vaccine according to the DOH (Department of Health), there are currently not enough vaccines to go around,” a recent SLUHN email about the MyChart notification option said. “Every day it is improving, but the demand far exceeds the current supply.”
“As our supply increases, so too will the available appointments,” the email noted. “Stay tuned and trust us to let you know when it’s your turn for the COVID-19 vaccine.”
Lehigh Valley Health Network is offering a similar service through their MyLVHN app. Everyone with a MyLVHN account will be preregistered for a COVID vaccine and will be notified automatically when they can schedule an appointment.