PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A big acceleration on the road to recovery in Pennsylvania. State health officials announced a dramatic expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations on Wednesday.
Vaccine appointments will be available to everyone eligible by the middle of April and the state will move into the next phases of distribution next week.READ MORE: Philadelphia To Begin Offering Children Ages 12-15 Pfizer's COVID-19 Vaccine On Thursday After CDC's Recommendation
State health officials say the vaccine expansion is happening because supplies have increased from the federal government that has them also stopping plans for regional clinics with a new focus on neighborhoods.
“Two weeks ahead of the president’s directive,” Acting Pennsylvania Health Secretary Alison Beam said.
Beam announced that beginning April 19 vaccination appointments will be open to everyone over the age of 16 and starting today a special exception is being made to allow appointments for law enforcement, firefighters, grocery store workers, and food and agriculture workers.
“We are on a different playing field than we were previously in the amount of supply that will be coming to us, not just this week but through the month of April so that’s going to be truly game-changing,” Beam said.
On April 5, Pennsylvania will move into Phase 1B, which includes people who live and work in congregated facilities and also postal and transit workers. Then, starting April 12, Phase 1C opens to people who work in food services, communications and public safety.
Even though COVID-19 cases have increased 57% over the past two weeks, Pennsylvania will proceed with lifting the next round of restrictions on Easter Sunday.
“All of this is under evaluation constantly,” Beam said.
Also crediting increased federal supplies, Beam announced a reversal in the state’s controversial plan to open mass county sites.
“Instead, we’re taking the vaccine and investing it directly into the counties how their local leadership has requested,” Beam said.READ MORE: Gasoline Shortage Appears To Be Creeping Into Philadelphia Region As Colonial Pipeline Resumes Operations
Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Valerie Arkoosh says she couldn’t be happier.
“I am very pleased and grateful to be able to tell you that Gov. [Tom] Wolf and his team announced earlier today that 42,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be delivered to the county health departments in the four southeastern counties,” Arkoosh said.
But Philadelphia’s collar counties caution that even with this boost, it will still be sometime before additional groups are actually able to get their shot.
A spokesperson for Chester County says, as of Monday, 88,000 1A residents there still need an appointment, while Montgomery County reports 75,000 1A residents are still waiting their turn.
“We have scheduled out phase 1A appointments into the future for the entire month of April,” Arkoosh said.
She adds that supply and eligibility are two very different things and that those who pre-register in the southeast will likely still have to wait a bit for their supply to show up.
Arkoosh pushed for redirection of the vaccine and says it will get much easier, but there’s a renewed warning about new COVID-19 cases.
“Our numbers are really rising very quickly, I’m very concerned,” Arkoosh said. “While we will soon be to rapidly increase vaccine distribution in the meantime, it is critically important that every one of us, vaccinated or not, continue to wear masks and maintain social distancing.”
Philadelphia said it is not changing its plans and will open up vaccine eligibility to all adult residents by May 1, meaning the state’s announcement only applies to people who live in the suburban counties.MORE NEWS: Man Shot 11 Times, Killed In Southwest Philadelphia Quadruple Shooting, Police Say
CBS3’s Stephanie Stahl and Alicia Roberts contributed to this report.