How UPMC Will Distribute the COVID-19 Vaccine

Updated April 13, 2021

Update: On April 13, 2021, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement recommending a pause in distribution of the Johnson & Johnson/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine out of caution as they investigate reported cases of Americans who developed a rare and serious blood clot after receiving the J&J vaccine. Currently, these blood clots are rare. The pause will allow federal health officials to investigate the cases and make further recommendations. 

At UPMC, we are committed to the safety of our communities in our vaccination efforts. We are following federal guidance in the distribution of the J&J vaccine. We are pausing our distribution of the J&J vaccine pending the CDC investigation.

If you or a loved one received the J&J vaccine, do not panic. The reported adverse effects are extremely rare given the number of J&J vaccines distributed. Call your doctor if you experience side effects related to blood clots, including severe headache, arm or leg swelling, and/or shortness of breath. You do not have to start any medicines like aspirin to thwart blood clots.

UPMC is working through the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to our communities. To date, we have delivered hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses.

UPMC is coordinating internally and with state and federal health officials about how we distribute vaccines in the communities we serve.

We are following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Health on distribution. That includes vaccinating people at high risk of getting COVID-19 or developing complications.

As of April 13, 2021, all Pennsylvanians age 16 and older are eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.

UPMC has set up a registration for eligible Pennsylvanians to receive the vaccine from UPMC. To schedule an appointment to receive the vaccine from UPMC, you can visit Vaccine.UPMC.com

What Is the Status of the COVID-19 Vaccine?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued emergency use authorization (EUA) to three COVID-19 vaccines:

  • The first COVID-19 vaccine, produced by Pfizer-BioNTech, received an EUA on Dec. 11, 2020.
  • A COVID-19 vaccine produced by Moderna received an EUA on Dec. 18.
  • A third vaccine, developed by Johnson & Johnson/Janssen, received an EUA on Feb. 27, 2021.

The distribution of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines began in December 2020. The distribution of the J&J vaccine began in March 2021.

On April 13, 2021, the CDC and FDA recommended a pause in the J&J vaccine distribution as they investigate reports of a rare and serious blood clot in six Americans after they received the J&J vaccine. The pause will allow for further investigation and recommendations. At UPMC, we are following guidance from federal, state, and local health officials and have paused our distribution of the J&J vaccine.

Other potential vaccine candidates could seek FDA approval for emergency use at a later date.

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How Will COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution Work?

It will take several months for enough doses of the vaccine to be available for all who need it.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended the first doses go to health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses, distributed weeks apart. The J&J vaccine is a single-dose vaccine.

The CDC estimates between 70% and 90% of the U.S. population would need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to reach herd immunity.

“The vaccines are going to come out in multiple forms from multiple companies, but there are 300-plus-million people in the United States who will likely need a dose of vaccine,” says Andrew Nowalk, MD, clinical director, Division of Infectious Diseases, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. So we’re going to have to be patient as the vaccines are rolled out and as the doses start to flow out.”

When Will the Vaccine Be Available to the Public?

Pennsylvania is distributing the vaccine in phases. As of April 13, 2021, all Pennsylvanians 16 years and older are eligible for vaccination. For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website.

UPMC hospitals, doctors’ offices, and clinics can’t currently provide the vaccine to the general public. However, UPMC has set up a registration for eligible Pennsylvanians to schedule a vaccine appointment with UPMC. To schedule your appointment, visit Vaccine.UPMC.com.

Current COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution:

As of April 13, 2021, all Pennsylvanians 16 and older are eligible to receive the vaccine.

UPMC is committed to providing vaccination in communities that have been severely affected by the pandemic and where there is limited access to medical care. We also are focused on providing vaccinations to communities with limited access to technology like smartphones or computers.

If you meet the Pennsylvania Phase 1a, 1b, 1c, and 2 criteria, you can visit Vaccine.UPMC.com to schedule a vaccine appointment with UPMC.

We will follow guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Please check back for more information.

What’s Next for Vaccine Distribution?

Currently, no one under the age of 16 is eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. That could change in the coming months. UPMC will continue to follow federal and state guidance for vaccine eligibility.

How Will Vaccine Distribution Work at UPMC?

UPMC is working with federal and state officials on when, how, and to whom vaccines will be distributed.

To date, we have distributed hundreds of thousands of vaccine doses in our communities. We look forward to continuing our vaccination efforts in the coming months.

“Our annual flu vaccination efforts have helped us put the infrastructure in place for mass vaccination events,” says Graham Snyder, MD, medical director, Infection Prevention and Hospital Epidemiology.

“We are used to navigating the varying transportation and storage requirements, handling protocols, and distribution plans that come along with all types of vaccines.”

UPMC had practice in the fall of 2020 with widespread, rapid vaccine distribution. Through “Operation One Shot,” it successfully delivered the influenza vaccine to over 70% of UPMC staff at participating hospitals in a matter of days.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe?

Vaccines go through extensive clinical trials to determine safety and effectiveness.

The Pfizer, Moderna, and J&J vaccines showed great promise in the clinical trials. All three exceeded FDA requirements for safety and effectiveness before receiving EUA.

“All of the information we have is that these vaccines are safe, that they work even better than we thought they would, and that they will be the thing that frees us from the COVID epidemic in the end,” Dr. Nowalk says.

On April 13, 2021, the FDA and CDC recommended a pause in J&J vaccine distribution after six Americans reportedly developed a rare and serious blood clot after getting the J&J vaccine. The pause will allow federal health officials to further investigate. Currently, this adverse effect appears to be rare. At UPMC, we have paused our distribution of the J&J vaccine in accordance with those recommendations.

If you or a loved one received the J&J vaccine, do not panic. These adverse effects appear to be extremely rare given the number of J&J vaccines distributed. Call your doctor if you experience symptoms related to blood clots, such as severe headaches, arm or leg swelling, and/or shortness of breath. You do not need to take a medicine like aspirin to thwart blood clots.

These adverse effects have not been linked to the Moderna or Pfizer vaccines.

“Most people, regardless of the vaccine they receive, should not expect severe side effects like this,” says Donald Yealy, MD, chief medical officer, UPMC. “It’s exceptionally rare.”

“The coronavirus vaccine landscape is changing rapidly, but we are preparing to the best of our abilities with the information we have,” Dr. Snyder says. “We look forward to playing a role in protecting our health care workers and the communities we serve.”

Sources

Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, Two Vaccines Might Get Emergency Approval This Month. Here's What You Need to Know. Link

Lena H. Sun and Isaac Stanley-Becker, Washington Post, Health Care workers and Nursing Home Residents Should Be the First to Get Coronavirus Vaccines, CDC Advisory Group Says. Link

About UPMC

Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.