Pa. health officials: Expect to wear masks, social distance for foreseeable future; vaccine to be distributed in 3 phases

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pennsylvania health officials say they welcome recent news about COVID-19 vaccines, but they say don’t expect to scrap the masks and hug your neighbors anytime soon.

Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said if everything goes as planned, the first vaccine from Pfizer could roll out in a month. And the second, from Moderna, could come out by the end of the year or early next year.

But initially, there will be a limited supply. So the plan for the state is to have the vaccine distributed in three phases, Levine explained.

The first phase will be for health care personnel, first responders, essential workers and residents of long-term care facilities.

The second phase will expand to vulnerable populations and those with health conditions that put them at high risk, and the third phase will include everyone else.

Levine said there are several challenges in distributing the vaccines. For example, Pfizer’s needs to be kept at minus 70 or minus 80 degrees Celsius, or about 100 below zero degrees Fahrenheit.

Moderna’s needs to be stored at minus 20 Celcius, closer to a typical freezer, but it can stay refrigerated for up to 30 days.

Levine said the federal government has only earmarked $340 million for states to distribute the vaccines, which she said is not enough.

“We are calling upon the federal government and the CDC to provide more funding,” she said.

Levine added it’s impossible to predict when they’ll get to each phase and when they’ll be able to lift restrictions, but she expects mask-wearing and physical distancing to last well into next year.

“It could take a significant amount of time to immunize everyone in Pennsylvania. I anticipate we’re going to be wearing masks in 2021, well into maybe to the end of 2021,” she said.

Featured Image Photo Credit: The Office of Governor Tom Wolf via Flickr