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HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania health officials still cannot say when a coronavirus vaccine will be available, but plans for how one will be distributed and who will get it first are coming into focus.
The state’s three-phase plan will prioritize health-care personnel, frontline and emergency workers, and those working with vulnerable populations, Health Secretary Rachel Levine said during a press call Thursday.
Seniors and people living in congregate care facilities, like nursing homes and assisted living facilities, will also be among the first to receive a vaccine, as long as it is deemed safe for use among those populations by the federal Food and Drug Administration.
Members of the general public will be included in the third phase of Pennsylvania’s distribution plan, Levine said.
The update came the same day Pennsylvania reported yet another single-day record for new confirmed coronavirus cases, adding 2,900 cases and bringing the statewide total to 220,566. Thursday was the second record-setting day this week.
Hospitalizations in the state have also been steadily increasing, but so far, there has not been a significant rise in the death count. That number often lags behind other indicators.
Masks, hand sanitizer, physical distancing, and smaller gatherings will still be part of day-to-day life, even after a vaccine is rolled out, Levine said.
“They’re not going to be a magical cure for the coronavirus and will not immediately end the pandemic,” Levine said of coronavirus vaccines, adding that it will take “many months” to get enough of the population vaccinated and slow community spread.
A coronavirus vaccine is likely to work similar to a flu vaccine: Those who receive it will be more protected against the virus. If they do contract it, those people will be less likely to get a severe case, Levine said.
“Until that time — and I can’t tell you when that will be — we need people to continue all of the safety measures they’re doing right now,” she said.
Six drug manufacturers are conducting clinical trials of a coronavirus vaccine. The Food and Drug Administration will review the results of those trials — which are used to determine dosage, examine side effects, and to make sure the vaccine is safe for all age groups — before issuing an emergency use authorization that will allow distribution.
Pennsylvania at this time does not have plans to conduct an independent review of any federally approved vaccine. California, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada have joined together to review a vaccine before it is distributed.
“I feel very comfortable that science will determine when they are available,” Levine said. “So we do not plan to have our own independent review of the safety and efficacy.”
As for future closures, Levine said that there are no plans to return to the red-yellow-green shutdown system the state used earlier this year.
There are also currently no plans to shut down schools.
“We have no plans to shut down schools at this time,” Levine said. “No plans at all.”
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