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State Department of Aging offers older Pennsylvanians new resources to arrange COVID-19 vaccinations

“We need to foster these community-based solutions."

  • Kiley Koscinski/WESA
FILE PHOTO: Mississippi Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Exstrella Smith withdraws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for injection on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Flowood, Miss.

 Rogelio V. Solis / AP Photo

FILE PHOTO: Mississippi Air Guard Tech. Sgt. Exstrella Smith withdraws a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine for injection on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020, in Flowood, Miss.

(Pittsburgh) – After weeks of criticism from older Pennsylvanians struggling to get COVID-19 vaccine appointments, Gov. Tom Wolf announced Thursday two state agencies are stepping up to help people over the age of 65 book COVID-19 vaccine appointments over the phone.

The state’s Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, or PACE,  is a low-cost prescription program for older adults; it has launched a dedicated unit at its Harrisburg-based call center to help its 275,000 cardholders arrange vaccination appointments. Operators will also be working with cardholders to arrange for transportation to vaccination sites; they’re also working with PACE’s pharmacy network members to vaccinate at a cardholder’s residence, if necessary. Enrollees can call 1-800-225-7223.

For other older adults, PA Link is now taking calls from people who don’t have access to a computer. Operators will assess the caller’s situation, offer guidance and transfer to a scheduling team. For callers with transportation needs, PA Link will also be able to contact partners with their local Area Agency on Aging to assist with coordinating rides.

The PA Link phone number for vaccine appointments is 1-800-753-8827.

The phone line services were announced days after state officials unveiled a new eligibility quiz called “Your Turn,” on the Department of Health website, which helps residents determine when they can get a shot.

Previously, state officials directed calls to the Department of Health phone line at 1-877-PA-HEALTH for answers about vaccine eligibility and appointment information. Callers have reported long wait times, and operators were unable to actually book appointments; they instead shared contact information for local vaccine providers.

Wolf said his administration plans to support other solutions developed at the local level. “We need to foster these community-based solutions,” Wolf said. “Every community in Pennsylvania has unique needs and challenges, but we can learn a lot from listening to one another and lifting up creative solutions that are making a difference in the state’s vaccination efforts.”

State Secretary of Aging Robert Torres applauded the Butler County Area Agency on Aging for its role in helping local older adults receive COVID-19 vaccines. Torres said the Agency has helped more than 1,200 older adults get appointments. He noted the no-show rate for this population has been zero percent.

Torres said Thursday that each of the state’s Area Agencies on Aging have different operating capacities and suggested people call their local office to determine what services are available to them.

In the absence of a state-supported program to help older Pennsylvanians get appointments, a few local Pittsburgh women created a Facebook group to share tips on how they got their relatives booked. Users alert each other to open appointments and share information. Some page administrators have booked 12 to 15 appointments a day for group members who are otherwise strangers.

A website called Vaccinate PA offers a search engine for users to enter their zip codes and receive a list of providers offering appointments or waitlists.

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