As coronavirus vaccinations roll out across the country, State College and Centre County are struggling to keep up with the demand of its at-risk communities.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s vaccine distribution plan, the state is in phase 1A. People over the age of 65 as well as high-risk people aged 16-64 are eligible for a vaccine. Medical professionals can also be vaccinated in this stage.
The struggle to keep up with the demand of eligible people in the community with the little supply of vaccines is a large part of the problem for individuals looking to be vaccinated, according to residents in the community.
On Feb. 1, Tom Charles, the executive vice president at Mount Nittany Health, said at the State College Borough Council meeting that the hospital had vaccinated 4,600 people — the most any distribution center had in Centre County so far.
According to Charles, on Jan. 29, 20,000 people had attempted to access 2,000 appointments that were made available on Mount Nittany Health’s website through a self-scheduling process.
“We are doing everything we can as fast as we possibly can, but this is simply going to take time,” Charles said at the meeting.
Some older State College community members have been able to get vaccinated by scheduling an appointment or through their residency in a home. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, a Federal Pharmacy Partnership program has been established with long-term care facilities and other residential facilities to deliver the vaccines to its residents.
Martina Semmer is 89 and has been a resident of Foxdale Village Retirement Community in State College for the past three years.
According to Semmer, all residents were offered the Pfizer vaccine through Foxdale Village’s health services.
Semmer said before she was offered the vaccine, she had scheduled an appointment to receive the vaccine through Centre Volunteers in Medicine over the phone, which she canceled once she was offered the vaccine through Foxdale.
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Because CVIM had so many people trying to schedule appointments, it had to move the process online, which, according to Semmer, became problematic for many older people.
“I know there are some older folks who don’t have access to computers and they don’t know how to navigate the system,” Semmer said.
Semmer said the first batch of the vaccine at Foxdale Village was given to the health staff and people working in skilled nursing. The second batch was to administer second doses to those people.
The next group to receive Foxdale’s vaccines was the rest of the staff and those in assisted living, followed by the independent living residents, according to Semmer.
John Buzzell, 98, has been an independent living resident in Foxdale Village with his wife for over 20 years.
Unlike Semmer, Buzzell didn’t attempt to schedule a vaccine elsewhere before they were offered at Foxdale, because he was “satisfied to wait until Foxdale got their supply of vaccines.”
According to Buzzell, Foxdale set up a vaccination clinic in its auditorium and gave residents a phone call when vaccines were available for them.
“It worked out very efficiently,” Buzzell said.
Buzzell said, from his understanding, “almost everyone who was asked as a resident got the shot.” He said he was thankful to the staff for being “aggressive in pursuing the search for our vaccine.”
Other Centre County residents had quite different experiences getting their vaccine.
Curt Chandler, 63, is an associate teaching professor in the College of Communications at Penn State and lives in Phillipsburg with his wife Stacie Chandler, 62.
Stacie is a former staff assistant in the School of Theatre at Penn State who retired in January 2021.
Although neither Curt or Stacie are 65 years old, both are in the high-risk category and were eligible for a vaccination.
Stacie had attempted to schedule appointments for both herself and her husband through Mount Nittany Health, and said it wasn’t an easy process.
On the morning of Jan. 29 when Stacie tried to schedule the appointments, she said it was a “freaking nightmare.”
“You have to pick a time and a day and then fill out the form, and you’re clicking and scrolling, going as fast as you can, and you have to sign off on a million questions. Then you hit submit and the appointment is taken,” Stacie said.
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She said it was “goofy” they didn’t hold your appointment while filling out the forms.
While Stacie was successful at scheduling an appointment for her husband, the appointment she had scheduled for herself ended up not going through, as she never received a confirmation email.
“They had 2,000 slots and they filled up in an hour,” Stacie said.
Stacie said she worries for older people who might not be as confident with using technology as someone in her age group would be.
“If someone in their fifties isn’t doing a good job, then clearly their parents in their seventies or eighties won’t be doing a good job,” Stacie said.
Curt said because he’s in a high-risk category, he and Stacie have been taking the coronavirus very seriously, and it was a “big relief to get the vaccination process started.”
“The pandemic has had a pretty profound impact on us,” Curt said.
As far as the actual vaccination went, Curt said it was a “good experience all the way around.”
Eventually, Stacie said she was finally able to set up a vaccination appointment for herself through Rite Aid.