NORRISTOWN — Montgomery County’s Office of Public Health received 21,000 additional doses of vaccine this week from the state and officials will open two new vaccination sites, in Pottstown and Lansdale, on Friday.
“This week, the county received our largest delivery of vaccine to date. For this week only, we are receiving a double shipment of the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine, equaling 21,000 doses,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh revealed during a Wednesday news briefing.
The 21,000 doses are in addition to the 5,850 Pfizer vaccines the county health department has been receiving weekly.
“This additional vaccine will help us move quickly through our existing 1A pre-registration list and allow us to open up Phase 1B appointments later this week or early next week,” Arkoosh explained. “As I said before, eligibility does not equal availability. We will continue to release appointments based on our vaccine supply. We may not have vaccine available for all the 1B people in our county for another week or two and similarly for 1C. But thankfully, the doses are increasing and we should get to you quickly.”
Phase 1A of the vaccine distribution plan includes those 65 and older, health care workers and anyone age 16 to 64 with specific medical conditions. Phase 1B, which began on Monday, includes U.S. Postal workers, first responders, law enforcement and grocery store workers.
With the increase in vaccine supply, the county is expanding its clinic locations.
Currently, the county Office of Public Health has vaccination clinics at Norristown High School, at the Montgomery County Community College campus in Whitpain and at the Parkside Shopping Center, in the former Petco location, in Willow Grove.
But on Friday, the county will open vaccination clinics at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1000 W. Main St., in Lansdale, and at Bethel Community Church, 575 N. Keim St., in Pottstown. Hours will vary at the two new sites and will include weekend and evening hours on some days, officials said.
“We plan to introduce weekend and evening hours as our operations expand to make it more convenient for people to get vaccinated on their schedule,” Arkoosh said.
Officials added they expect to open additional clinics in Norristown and King of Prussia in the coming weeks.
“Anyone who books with us will have the ability to choose their clinic location, the date and time of their appointment and even the vaccine that they receive, which will be either Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson,” Arkoosh said.
Appointments are required to receive the vaccine. All those eligible for the vaccine in Phase 1A and Phase 1B can pre-register to receive the vaccine through the county Office of Public Health. The pre-registration link can be found at www.montcopa.org/COVID-19 under the green vaccination information button.
Residents who don’t have internet access can call the county’s COVID-19 hotline at (833) 875-3967 to connect with a volunteer who can assist them in pre-registering for a vaccine.
After distributing 21,000 additional doses to the county this week, the state is expected to return next week to distributing 10,500 doses of the J&J vaccine and 5,850 doses of the Pfizer vaccine weekly to the county.
“Of course that could change depending on the delivery to the state. But if the state continues to get what they have been receiving (from federal sources) then we will get, in total, about 16,000 doses a week,” Arkoosh explained.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health reported on Wednesday that 110,981 county residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, receiving either the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine or both doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. Another 177,160 county residents have received a first dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to state data, which includes those who have received vaccine through the county and at all other locations such as pharmacies.
While vaccine availability is increasing in the county, so are the number of positive coronavirus cases and hospitalizations as the region experiences a spring surge of the virus.
The 159 daily new positive COVID-19 cases reported in the county on Wednesday brought the county’s total number of positive cases to 52,609 since March 7, 2020, when the first two cases of the virus were identified in the county. The county is currently averaging about 218 new positive cases a day.
To date, at least 80 of the positive individuals in the county have been identified as carrying one of the coronavirus variants. Seventy-four people carried the more contagious B117 variant first identified in the United Kingdom and six others carried variants first identified in New York and California.
“Very few of our cases still are actually screened for these variants. Happily, more and more of our labs are starting to look for variants when they do the PCR testing but it’s still not anywhere close to 100% of the cases that are being screened for the variants,” Arkoosh explained.
“So, the fact that we have 80 says to me that we probably have a pretty substantial amount of the variants in our community,” Arkoosh added.
According to the latest county data, the overall 14-day COVID-19 positivity rate for the county, as of April 1, was 7.13% which was an increase from the 6.01% positivity rate recorded during the previous 14-day period ending March 25.
Health officials believe a positivity rate below 5% indicates a county is suppressing the spread of the virus.
“We continue to be in a serious situation with the amount of virus in our community. There is plenty of virus out in our community and the majority of our residents are unvaccinated. So please, we must continue with our masks and our social distancing and our hand washing,” Arkoosh addressed residents, referring to recommended mitigation measures.
There were 218 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in the county’s nine hospitals on Wednesday, up from 177 a week ago. Thirteen of the current patients required respirators, according to the latest hospitalization data.
“Our hospitals remain busy. To put this in context, on Oct. 1 there were 24 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in a Montgomery County hospital,” Arkoosh pointed out.
No new COVID-19 deaths were reported on Wednesday, leaving the county’s death toll at 1,266 since the pandemic began a year ago. Those who have died from the virus have ranged in age from 25 to 106.