Delaware County has been receiving, on average, approximately 1,000 doses of COVID vaccine from the state weekly - a rate that would take more than 10 years to vaccinate every Delco resident.
And that was until last week, when Delaware County received no vaccines at all, causing officials to cancel second-dose vaccine appointments that had been scheduled for Saturday.
At Wednesday's county council meeting, both residents and county officials voiced frustration at a process that sees conflicting statements from state and federal officials about vaccine rollout while limited supply trickles its way here, despite the county geared up for mass vaccinations that could provide 10,000 a week - a figure that's a mirage until vaccine is directed this way.
The Biden administration has said it's ramping up distribution with plans to increase it by 15 percent while Pennsylvania ranks at the bottom among the states in terms of effective distribution.
Pennsylvania Department of Health officials refused to comment for this article, including questions of how the state chooses to distribute the vaccine and where.
For even as they state "the Department of Health is working to ensure the vaccine is provided in a way that is ethical, equitable and efficient," questions remain in what they mean by that, especially when looking at the numbers.
When looking at the vaccine doses, Philadelphia is removed as it is a separate vaccine jurisdiction. The other counties receive their distributions from the state, which has been receiving vaccines since mid-December.
When combining the four suburban Philadelphia counties - Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery - there are approximately 2.5 million residents here, or 22 percent of Pennsylvania's population without including Philadelphia.
On Saturday, the state Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Dashboard reported that these four suburban counties had distributed 187,229 first doses and 93,676 full vaccinations. Pennsylvania itself had disseminated 1,421,115 first doses and 510,442 full doses overall.
Another way to look at this is that the four suburban Philadelphia counties have almost a fourth of Pennyslvania's population, not including Philadelphia, but have only received 14.5 percent of the state's vaccine distributions. And, again, state health officials won't say why.
Delaware County officials were clearly discontented, even after speaking with the Acting State Health Secretary Alison Beam two Saturdays ago.
"What’s tremendously frustrating to me is to sit on a meeting … with representatives of the state Department of Health saying, 'Well, we distributed shallowly and broadly because we thought that was the best way to get equity,'" county Councilwoman Christine Reuther said in conjunction with concerns she has about opening a vaccination center in Chester this week and not having any vaccine to distribute there.
"We’ll open the center … and we’ll not be able to distribute vaccine in a place where equity demands the vaccine be available for distribution," she said. "I can’t begin to tell you how my heart plummeted when I heard that and there’s literally nothing we can do about it. It’s tremendously frustrating for us.”
She's not the only one who's frustrated.
State Rep. Chris Quinn, R-168 of Middletown, sent out a message to constituents noting the state's swapping of second and first Moderna vaccine doses, impacting as many as 200,000 doses and potentially causing as many as 110,000 appointments having to be rescheduled statewide.
"Like you," he wrote, "I am frustrated with the inefficient and error-prone rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania ... Right now, PA is ranked 41st in percentage of doses administered. This is unacceptable and the time for examining these repeated failures of the PA Department of Health will come."
He said a COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force had just been established at the state level and comprised of representatives from both parties as well as administrative officials with plans to meet several times a week.
Meanwhile, questions remain.
At a tele-town hall held by U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5 of Swarthmore, this week, more than 4,000 people tuned in to get information about the vaccine and to get their questions answered.
"The Biden administration has made vaccination distribution the number-one priority," Scanlon said, adding that there was no real strategy in place for the manufacturing and distribution of the vaccine.
So, now, she said, there are five components to Biden's plan: Driving more federal support so more people get vaccinated; increasing the vaccine supply through the Defense Production Act; expanding eligibility to those 65 and older, grocery story employees, teachers, first responders and others; mobilizing a public health workforce to deploy the vaccine; and launching a public education campaign.
Delaware County Council Vice Chairman Dr. Monica Taylor also participated in Scanlon's town hall and said the county has infrastructure prepared to vaccinate all of the county's teachers and child care workers in two weekends, if they had the supply.
"We would need 25,000 vaccines," she said. "Once vaccine supply opens up, we have a plan in place."
Taylor added that the county is frustrated, too.
"The county has secured the locations, storage and staff to do large scale community vaccinations," she said, adding that they're ready to distribute 10,000 vaccinations each week. "We have thousands of staff and volunteers who are trained and ready. We are ready. We just need supply."
Delaware County - only one vaccine provider in the county - has three vaccine locations that distribute doses by pre-registered appointment. They are the Delaware County Wellness Center in Yeadon, the Aston Community Center and the Keystone First Wellness Center, which will open in Chester this week. Those three operate 12 hours a day, seven days a week. Springfield Hospital is also identified as a vaccine location but has been placed on hold because of the lack of supply.
County officials have also earmarked Garnet Valley, Ridley, Upper Darby and Radnor high schools as sites of large-scale vaccinations over weekends in the spring and summer. They are anticipated to do 175 doses an hour each, or 3,125 each over a weekend.
Delaware County also has plans for mass drive-through vaccinations. One is at Delaware County Community College, where 275 people can be vaccinated per hour, or 10,000 in a weekend. The Upland Municipal Center also has plans to vaccinate 150 per day, or 600 a week, whenever the vaccine supply would arrive.
County officials have alternative plans for special-needs populations, including those with developmental disabilities and those who are homebound.
The county is only one of several vaccine providers. Most are private, such as Crozer Health, which held its first community vaccination event in Chester last week, where 400 people received doses.
Prior to that, Crozer had administered more than 20,000 doses to Emergency Medical Services personnel, unaffiliated phase 1A health care workers or phase 1A-eligible members of the public, according to Dr. Gary D. Zimmer, chief medical officer of Crozer Health. He added that they are planning more events in Chester and in Upper Darby in the coming weeks.
"When we started," he explained, "we administered vaccine only to front line healthcare workers affiliated with Crozer Health. We have subsequently expanded that group to Crozer employees and affiliated staff, unaffiliated health care workers in Delaware County and, most recently, members of the public who are phase 1A eligible. We have not prioritized within these categories as we have not received any guidance from the state or federal agencies about prioritizing subcategories - which is a challenge - which means that we are working on a first-come first-served basis."
He said Crozer Health is working with the county to open a public vaccination site at Springfield Hospital.
Zimmer spoke to the frustration over the vaccine distribution.
"Vaccine distribution has been a major challenge nationwide," he said. "Crozer Health is proud of the work that we have done to vaccinate as many people as possible. Equity has been one of our highest priority. Crozer Health has proudly served all of the members of our communities for over a century. We have not prioritized those with pre-existing relationship. Everyone who has received a vaccine has attested that they are eligible based on the criteria established by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. The reality is that this is a public health crisis that requires the entire health care system to work together to vaccinate everyone. The total vaccines received in the county is enough for fewer than 10 percent of our residents at this time. We understand the frustration for those who have not yet received the vaccine and continue to work with the county and state to ensure that we are scaling up as quickly as the vaccine supply allows."
County officials remain uncertain.
"It does unfortunately come down to who you know, whether you get lucky refreshing your browser at the right time for a particular pharmacy and that’s the opposite of equity, that’s the opposite of fairness," county Councilman Kevin Madden said, adding that the process should have been streamlined. "Had we been provided the vaccines necessary … we’d be in a much cleaner and more sensible place for the public.”
He said he didn't know if more vaccinations would have been distributed at this point, but that the process would be perceived as fairer and understandable.
“We are all incredibly frustrated and angry at this point," Madden said. "We are jumping up and down and it doesn’t seem to be doing much good.”