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Pa. reverses course and details vaccine waste


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
May 25, 2021
Vaccine details, one-year mark, work search, audit mystery, snail mail, unapproved tech, and a York wedding dress goes down in history. It's Tuesday.
After refusing to release details about wasted coronavirus vaccine, citing a decades-old disease prevention law, the Wolf administration has reversed course and made public how many doses have been discarded by providers and why.

The data shows just 0.18% of more than 10 million doses given to hospitals, pharmacies, and other providers through May 21 were not used, Spotlight PA reports. Of the 18,644 discarded doses, providers reported spoilage as the cause in more than 37% of cases.

The owner of a pharmacy that reported 1,130 spoiled doses — the second-highest number — said he had been asking the state for doses since February when demand was high and many of his customers were eager to get the vaccine. But the pharmacy didn't receive its first shipment until May 2.

"Most of the people already had either received the vaccine or didn't need it anymore, or they refused it," the owner said. 

THE CONTEXT: The release of the data comes two months after the state Department of Health initially denied Spotlight PA’s public records request for the information, citing a 1955 law the Wolf administration has used throughout the pandemic to obscure the finer details of its response.

The Disease Prevention and Control Law gives the state wide authority to keep information related to contagious diseases, including details that could identify individuals, confidential. But it has been used more broadly over the past year to withhold all kinds of information.

Like the wasted vaccines, state health officials initially cited the law in refusing to release the number of COVID-19 tests the state was conducting and the number of cases in specific nursing homes. After criticism, the Wolf administration reversed course in both instances.

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"You can try locking people up — that ain’t going to stop nothing. [...] It’s like trying to cover the sky with a finger."

—A heroin dealer called 'Bebo' on Kensington's thriving pandemic-era drug trade and the gun violence it fuels
VACCINE UPDATE: A state Senate panel has advanced a bill banning so-called "vaccine passports" in Pennsylvania despite the fact that state officials have said there are no plans to implement them here. In other vaccine news, WHYY has a good explainer on booster shots and what may be required for vaccinated people going forward. For vaccine providers, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
In response to a recent link in this newsletter about the arrival of bear season, PA Poster Tish M. sent us this photo of a downed clothesline in Halifax. The suspected culprit? A bear after Tish's bird feeders, one of which was found 30 yards away and broken in half. Send us your hidden gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us at @spotlightpennsylvania.

ONE YEAR LATER: Today marks a year since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer who was later convicted of his murder. The killing and footage of it prompted a rush of police reform legislation in states like Pennsylvania. The Post-Gazette examines the status of those state and national efforts as well as what Pittsburgh's first Black mayor could mean for local attempts at meaningful change.

JOB MARKET: Pennsylvania's work search requirement for people collecting unemployment benefits will return in July, more than a year after it was shelved by the pandemic. The Associated Press says this means people claiming benefits will have to search for work to qualify again. The move comes amid an ongoing and politicized debate about what's really causing a reported nationwide labor shortage.

AUDIT TRAIL: Documents tie a mysterious audit of Fulton County's 2020 election results to two prominent "Stop the Steal" figures: state Sen. Doug Mastriano and former Trump campaign attorney Sidney Powell, the Arizona Mirror reports. According to handwritten notes from the auditor, Mastriano set up the review along with Powell's Defending the Republic nonprofit, the same behind a series of 2020 election lawsuits. 

VOTE BY MAIL: Pennsylvania's no-excuse mail voting law is changing how politicians campaign, pushing up fundraising and marketing to head off a growing number of early votes, the Morning Call reports. Meanwhile, LancasterOnline has the latest on a plan by state Sen. Ryan Aument (R., Lancaster) to introduce legislation suspending universal mail voting statewide until spring 2023.

SECRET SOFTWARE: Emails obtained by PublicSource show a handful of Pittsburgh police used facial recognition technology during Black Lives Matter protests last summer — in violation of the bureau's own policy and, in later cases, city law. A spokesperson said the controversial facial-recognition tool Clearview AI was accessed by officers without the knowledge or permission of command staff.

GOOD FENCES: Delaware's got our money, according to state Treasurer Stacy Garrity. A five-year-old suit claims $10 million in unclaimed property held by Delaware rightfully belongs to Pennsylvania. Garrity says a SCOTUS-appointed special master now agrees, giving Delaware two weeks to respond. 

WHAT IS 'JEOPARDY!': Ryan Bilger of Macungie and Kevin Walsh of New Jersey will go head-to-head in the second of three Tournament of Champions semi-final rounds for the famous game show starting at 7 p.m., PhillyVoice reports. "Jeopardy!" is still searching for a permanent host.

WEDDING 'CHUTE: Deany Keith's silk wedding dress was made from a German parachute, brought back by her WWII vet brother, because fabric was scarce. Now, the York woman's garment is in the New York Times and headed to the National World War II Museum, via the York Daily Record.

ROAD RAGE: Making the treacherous crossing into "Pittsburgh's Central Park" is like being a wildebeest moving through a crocodile-infested river, writes City Paper columnist Tereneh Idia. The alt-weekly also has a themed crossword to test your Pittsburgh transportation knowledge.

BIG BEEF: Philadelphia’s attempt at setting a cheesesteak world record on Monday was not without controversy. For starters, the blocks-long sandwich was actually many different sandwiches put together. And at least a few of them appeared to contain pickles, ham, or pumpernickel bread.
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: Persistence

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., David I., Neal W., Dixie S., Elaine C., Meg M., Irene R., Don H., Dennis M., Bob R., George S., James B., Heidi B., Karen W., Johnny C., Suzanne S., Elizabeth W., Carol D., David W., Brian B., Joel S., Tish M., Patricia R., and Ed R.
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