During a recent Sunday “ladies’ brunch” over Zoom, my girlfriends and I – we laughed, we drank and we even cried – when one chimed in from the hospital delivery room, surprising us with her mere-hours-old baby boy.
I think I can speak for all of us when I say our faces hurt from smiling. That new arrival’s arrival was perfect timing because, up to that point, the conversation had taken a weird turn to COVID and the vaccine. About a third of us work in health care and have already received the first Moderna or Pfizer booster. The rest of us are waiting our turn.
What got us talking about this was how we all wanted so eagerly to be together again in person. Some of us are more concerned about interaction than others. And then we wandered onto whether or not COVID vaccination should be mandated.
In Philly, that type of thing would be a long way off – if ever possible – says the city’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley. Besides, the way it’s being distributed, the vaccine’s supply is lagging far behind its demand.
Yet, new data surrounding the administration of the COVID vaccine shows healthy people in younger age brackets have been skipping the line to get their shots before more vulnerable groups – a loophole many see as unfair to those who are in real need or who have been waiting patiently.
“The information is constantly changing,” Farley said during a recent COVID-19 press briefing with members of the media.
Health-care workers and residents in long-term health facilities are first in line to get the vaccine in a top-priority group called 1a, which is considered to be the highest risk of exposure to the virus. Beginning this week, the city will move to phase 1b, which includes frontline essential workers, people 75 and older, those who live and work in congregate settings and those with high-risk medical conditions.
According to Farley, most of the time, the supplies are being delivered to hospitals, congregate health settings (homeless shelters, group homes, prisons), pharmacies and mass vaccination clinics. In some cases, those who sign up online but don’t fit the criteria slip through the cracks and get the vaccine anyway. When supplies are already short, this creates more frustration and confusion for many Philadelphians.
This week, CBS3 reported a case where a 28-year old said he and other young, healthy friends registered for the vaccine through a website run by Philly Fighting COVID, which has been vaccinating people in droves.
“I filled it out completely honestly, said I’m not a health-care worker,” he told CBS3.
“The next thing you know, I got a confirmation.”
Farley said the city delivers the vaccine for the “off-site” Philly Fighting COVID for them to administer to patients, but beyond that – it doesn’t regulate what they do.
But where some are chomping at the bit to get the vaccine, others are totally averse. In preparing for this column, I started with some basic research. As I began typing in the Google search field: “Is the COVID vaccine…” Google guessed “safe,” followed by “FDA approved,” “a live vaccine,” “painful,” “free,” and “working.” Much further down the list was “mandatory,” and I thought back to my ladies’ Zoom brunch.
On Monday, the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium set up a testing site at Girard College. Led by Dr. Ala Stanford, this group pushes for as many people as possible to get the vaccine, especially minorities and residents of North Philly who are at higher risk of catching the virus. Stanford reportedly called on the National Guard to push the vaccine out in larger doses among the population.
Asked about the feasibility of that happening this week, Farley responded:
“I don’t think that’s going to be necessary and I don’t think that’s necessarily the wisest way to go, even if it were.
“The National Guard wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed in a variety of communities, so, maybe, at some point, we’d get there, but I don’t think at this point it is appropriate.”
Good for Farley for saying that. We don’t need the National Guard here to help with the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine. We know people are eager to be vaccinated and like he said:
“It simply will take months before we have enough to vaccinate everybody who wants the vaccine. We do ask for people to be patient.”
Farley also said he understands why many Philadelphians are hesitant to get it. I do, too. Perhaps you have had the virus already and have been told by a doctor you are immune. Perhaps you have been told by a doctor you have the antibodies. In any case, individuals should have a choice about what they put in their arms, especially with regard to experimental vaccines. All that said: I still plan to get it, though I will be last in line.