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State will text Pennsylvanians that missed second COVID-19 shot

(By Christen Smith | The Center Square) – In an effort to boost the statewide COVID-19 vaccination rate, the Pennsylvania Department of Health said residents who missed their second dose will soon receive text message reminders to complete the immunization series.

Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said last week federal data shows that about 65% of the new virus cases in the region that includes Pennsylvania are caused by the delta variant. 

While breakthrough cases have occurred in fully immunized people, Beam said unvaccinated patients represent 97% of the hospitalizations and 99% of the COVID-19 deaths.

“We want to remind everyone that getting the second dose is important to help protect against COVID and the delta variant,” she said. 

About 255,000 residents will receive these text messages, including those who received their first dose more than 42 days ago. The department said it’s using phone numbers gathered from providers who administered doses to residents between Dec. 14, 2020 and May 14, 2021.

“While the recommendation is to get the second dose within 42 days for best results, we know that schedules can be hectic and people miss appointments,” Beam said. “The goal of these reminders is to make sure people know that it is never too late to get your second dose and to help individuals make a new second dose appointment at a provider convenient to them.”

About 63.2% of residents have been fully vaccinated, according state data. Maggi Barton, a department spokesperson, said Tuesday that 500 people remain hospitalized with the virus and eight deaths were reported on Monday. She said data shows a correlation between increased vaccination rates and lower COVID-19 case counts, so the department is focused on boosting immunizations to keep the virus’s spread under control.

“Pennsylvania has made tremendous strides in vaccinating individuals aged 12 years and older,” she said. “Additionally, data has shown that there is a correlation between increased vaccination rates and lower COVID-19 case counts. We cannot stress the importance of eligible Pennsylvanians getting vaccinated to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

House Republicans, however, said the plan raises “serious privacy concerns” and worries that the department crossed a line in gathering the personal information and now may not do enough to protect it.

“Ultimately, Pennsylvanians who have received this vaccine either out of a sense of duty or to protect themselves and loved ones deserved better notice that their private health and personally identifiable information will be used by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to track their vaccination status, potentially contact them at home, and be provided to third parties,” said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.

Barton said the residents provided the information when registering for their initial vaccination appointment. The text message reminders are the same strategy health care providers use to contact patients, she added.

“Gov. Wolf and leaders of the House and Senate bipartisan vaccine task force sent a letter last week encouraging legislators to do everything possible to urge people to get the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “That’s where the House GOP should be focusing, not fearmongering that spreads disinformation and puts people at risk.”

“We are committed to do everything possible to save lives and stop COVID-19, we would hope the House GOP will join the fight,” she added.

Gottesman said “no one gave the Wolf administration” permission to contact them or share their personal information with third parties.

“While everyone is committed to stopping the spread of this virus and associated variants, including through a robust vaccine deployment, this is nothing short of bait and switch by the Department of Health that does nothing to further confidence in the vaccine distribution process or the security of private information given to providers or government entities,” he said.

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