State lawmakers direct vaccination frustration toward Pa. Health Dept. during Appropriations hearing

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — For nearly a year, the state legislature has been frustrated by Wolf Administration edicts and Department of Health mandates. On Thursday, in an Appropriations hearing, those frustrations boiled over.

“Was the Governor telling the truth to the people of Pennsylvania on this issue of vaccines?” Rep. John Lawrence (R-Chester, Lancaster) asked during the hearing on Thursday.

Rep. Lawrence questioned Governor Wolf’s assertion that 100% of nursing home residents had been vaccinated.

“Yes, the Governor is stating a true statement,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said.

But Beam also said Wolf was speaking about nursing homes in a specific program — not all nursing homes in Pennsylvania.

“That is double speak like I rarely have seen in front of this chamber,” Rep. Lawrence responded.

Rep. Meghan Schroeder (R-Bucks) focused on the state DOH expanding group 1A to as many as 4-million Pennsylvanians knowing supply couldn’t keep up.

“So you’ve set this expectation that has failed the people of Pennsylvania,” Rep. Schroeder said.

Beam said the expansion followed federal guidance and gave the same answer about a March 18 order requiring nursing homes to accept COVID positive patients.

“Can you just say to us today that March 18 order was a mistake?” Rep. Natalie Mihalek (R-Allegheny) asked.

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Beam responded, saying it was a preventative measure to ensure hospitals were not over-run.

“I would not want to be the one to look in the eyes of those loved ones — those 12,338 people — and stand by this order,” Representatives Mihalek and Stan Saylor (R-York) said. “And Madame Secretary … the fact that you were avoiding the answer clearly makes it clear. I don’t know why when you make a mistake you can’t agree a mistake was made.”

The mistake may have been putting an acting Secretary in the hot seat who has only been on the job for a month. And unfair, says Rep. Pete Schweyer (D-Allegheny), to direct all that anger at one department.

“I have a ton of frustration over people refusing to wear masks and I’m frustrated at having to stay home every night and I’m frustrated at folks not able to get their vaccines. I think everybody’s just frustrated — period,” Rep. Schweyer said. “We want the Department of Health and [Wolf] Administration to take ownership of these decisions and so far they’ve failed to do so.”

Getting COVID-19 vaccines into the arms of all Pennsylvanians is still a challenge, but especially troublesome? Communities of color.

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