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Pa.'s wasted COVID-19 vaccine details guarded by officials

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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
March 25, 2021
Wasted vaccine, Levine confirmed, essential workers, mask heist, pension probe, redistricting rules, and Philadelphia pop-tarts. It's Thursday.

The Wolf administration won't release details about wasted coronavirus vaccines, citing a decades-old law that gives the state the authority to keep such information private, but which legal experts say also affords officials broad discretion to release it.

The state's Department of Health denied a public records request from Spotlight PA seeking documentation of vaccine doses that providers did not administer because of expiration, damage, or other factors — all information that is gathered by the state. Spotlight PA plans to appeal the decision.

The department counts just 1,589 of the more than 2.3 million doses administered as of Feb. 26 — just .06% — as wasted but won't say if certain providers were responsible for a disproportionate share of that waste.

THE CONTEXT: Pennsylvania's vaccine rollout has seen no shortage of scrutiny, even from Gov. Tom Wolf's political allies.

And while the pace of the effort has quickened significantly in recent weeks, the administration's reluctance to be more forthcoming on the issue of vaccine waste speaks to a broader pattern seen throughout the pandemic — even despite Wolf's public commitment to transparency.

The scrutiny will surely continue, though, with millions of Pennsylvanians still waiting to be vaccinated and Pennsylvania becoming the eighth U.S. state to reach 1 million COVID-19 cases just yesterday.


“I don’t understand how you can address the issue if you can’t even name it.”

—Free Library of Philadelphia organizer Fred Ginyard on diversity and inclusion training that urged staff to avoid terms like white supremacy, systemic racism, and white privilege
VACCINE UPDATE: A study touting the efficacy and safety of AstraZeneca's embattled COVID-19 vaccine is drawing scrutiny from U.S. officials and strong words from an independent panel that says the pharmaceutical company may have "cherry-picked" data to reach a more favorable conclusion. For vaccine providers, check Spotlight PA's map and county-by-county listing.
» The Fettermans: Join Spotlight PA at 5 p.m. April 6 for a conversation and reader Q&A with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and Second Lady Gisele Fetterman on immigration, legal cannabis, racism, and more. RSVP FOR FREE

POST IT: #ThrowbackThursday to the splendor that was last year's fall foliage with this crisp photo of Fayette County's Cranberry Lake. Thanks, @pabucketlist, for tagging us! Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.
CONFIRMED: Former Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine has been confirmed as assistant U.S. health secretary, making her the first openly transgender nominee to earn U.S. Senate approval. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) was among 48 opposing votes, saying Levine "has not earned a promotion." Levine's confirmation also saw mounting pressure from Republicans to account for missing COVID-19 data from her time as Pennsylvania's top doctor.

ESSENTIAL WORKERS: Should restaurant staff be prioritized alongside teachers for COVID-19 vaccines? With indoor dining limits rolling back and case numbers creeping up, the chorus in favor of the idea is growing, Pittsburgh City Paper reports. "We cannot ease restrictions without first ensuring our front line workers are prioritized for vaccinations," Allegheny County Council member Bethany Hallam said.

PPE THEFT: A former director of emergency management at the University of Pittsburgh is charged with stealing and selling more than 13,000 face masks meant for Pitt employees and students. A federal indictment says Christopher Casamento made $18,783.50 from illicit online sales of stolen N95 respirators, surgical masks, and particulate respirators, per the Associated Press.

JOB SEARCH: Wanted: a fifth and final member of Pennsylvania's redistricting commission. Must have voted in two of the last three general elections. Must not be a registered lobbyist or past political nominee. These job criteria are being eyed by state lawmakers who want to limit the political connections of candidates for the post, one with a pivotal role in the redrawing of the state's political maps, NBC10 reports.

MONEY PIT: Two law firms have been hired to investigate a $25 million "error" that inflated the profits of Pennsylvania's largest pension fund, likely at taxpayers' expense. PennLive reports the Public School Employees’ Retirement System has hired two outside firms to find out what caused the latest controversy to dog the system.

ON STRIKE: A St. Louis Post-Dispatch correspondent named Olivia Howard Dunbar was sent to Hazleton to cover a massive mine workers strike in 1900. Dunbar's subsequent reporting focused on the importance of women in the labor movement and likely used pseudonyms to protect them from mine owner retribution, Wynning History reports. 

BITTER BITES: Passover starts Saturday and horseradish will be on Seder plates, symbolizing the bitterness Jews experienced as slaves in Egypt. The commercial horseradish industry came much later, taking root in the mid-19th century in places like Pittsburgh, where a future ketchup magnate named Henry J. Heinz bottled his first batch in 1869, per the Post-Gazette.

KID YOU NOT: Philadelphia's homemade pop-tarts scene is further proof that the fancification of unfancy foods is a genre without boundaries. The city's got fig-apple-rosemary ones, strawberry-champagne ones, and savory versions with potatoes, leeks, or turkey, stuffing, and gravy, The Inquirer reports.

WATCH PARTY: Pennsylvania wildlife are content creators, too. At any given time, cameras are broadcasting live shots of Pennsylvania eagles, falcons, elk, and bears around the world — often with NSFW disclaimers. The Morning Call has a roundup of seven Pennsylvania wildlife cams worth watching.

FIREBALL: Luckily all the cameras were still awake at 12:30 a.m. on Sunday when a meteor streaked across the skies of Pennsylvania. The American Meteor Society received at least 263 reports from more than a dozen states and a number of impressive videos from ours, via Lehigh Valley Live.

Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

Yesterday's answer: Television (also "Olivenites," apparently)

Congrats to our daily winners: Dixie S., Mary Ellen T., Becky C., Neal W., Jessica K., Susan D., Anna T., Kevin H., John A., Jill G., Elaine C., Eve B., Craig W., Irene R., Dennis M., George S., Joel S., Bill C., Dianne K., Beth T., Carol D., Ron P., Patricia R., Suzanne S., Marsha B., Craig E., and Karen W. 
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