In accordance with the wishes of President Joe Biden and a plan outlined by the state, Philadelphia will make all adults eligible for a coronavirus vaccine starting April 19, officials said Tuesday.
Health Commissioner Thomas Farley expressed hesitancy about speeding up the roll-out last week, saying he worried seniors and other people vulnerable to the virus could be left behind.
White House officials said Tuesday that Biden plans to ask all states and municipalities to begin inoculating the general population two weeks earlier than his previous May 1 deadline. His administration had been saying that 90% of adults would be eligible by April 19.
“The president asked everybody to move to April 19th, and the president has provided great leadership on this,” Farley said during a virtual press briefing. “When he asks, I think we ought to do what he asks.”
In addition, everyone in Philadelphia’s Phase 1C will be able to receive a vaccine on Monday, April 12, officials said.
City leaders have widened the priority group to include landscaping workers, government employees, election workers, social services workers, unpaid caregivers of people who are medically vulnerable and residents receiving home and community-based state services.
Select groups in 1C, including sanitation workers, janitors and delivery drivers, became eligible Monday.
Others in the category — those who are employed in higher education, finance, transportation, construction, IT and telecommunications, media, law and public health but cannot work remotely — will have access to the shot next week.
Farley estimated that Philadelphia could have enough doses to inoculate all adults by the end of June.
“It really is going to depend, more than anything, at this point, on how many people want to be vaccinated,” he told reporters.
During the week that ended March 28, 122,000 doses were administered in the city, an all-time high, officials said.
Even while announcing changes that will dramatically widen the eligibility pool, Farley said seniors should be the focus for vaccine providers amid a surge in COVID-19 cases. He suggested that young and healthy people should wait before snatching available appointments.
About 45% of Philadelphia residents ages 65 and older have received at least one dose, Farley said.
“We definitely need to boost the numbers of people over 65 who are protected in order to prevent deaths from this epidemic wave,” he added.
Some clinics have begun offering walk-in options for seniors.
Three city-run centers — Berks Street Annex in North Philadelphia, Health Center 3 in West Philadelphia and Health Center 10 in Northeast Philadelphia — will be distributing vaccines to seniors without appointments on Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Each site will be giving out about 50 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, officials said.
A total of 391,560 Philadelphia residents, or about a quarter of the city’s population, are at least partially vaccinated, and 17.5% of people over the age of 15 have received two doses.
Farley said the city has been told they will receive 40,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines this week, a number that is expected to remain stable for the next three weeks.
In addition, Philadelphia is getting 23,000 Johnson & Johnson doses, most of which will be allocated to a new federally-backed site opening Friday at Esperanza’s campus in Hunting Park.
At first, about 1,000 people a day will be inoculated at the site, with the goal of expanding to 2,500, Farley said. It will operate six days a week, be staffed primarily by members of the Pennsylvania National Guard and remain open for eight weeks.
City leaders are in discussions with Biden administration officials about extending the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s stay at the other federal site, located at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Currently, it is set to close at the end of April. The site has been distributing second doses but will shift to providing the J&J vaccine sometime next week.
Meanwhile, it appears viral spread continues to increase.
Last week, Philadelphia averaged 507 cases a day with an 8.7% positive test rate, compared to the prior week’s 511 daily infections and 7.1%.
On Tuesday, officials reported 700 confirmed cases, 210 probable infections and eight COVID-19-related deaths, bringing the city’s pandemic death toll to 3,293.
“While they’ve occurred across the entire population, the increases have been greater in younger adults, say people ages 20 to 54,” Farley said.
He said variants of the virus seem to be playing a role, particularly the B.1.1.7 strain first recognized in the United Kingdom and a variant identified in New York City.
There has also been at least one person diagnosed with the South African variant in Philadelphia, according to Farley.