Casey says distribution is key
According to Senator Bob Casey, speaking via Zoom at a health press conference sponsored by Centro Hispano of Reading Feb. 8, Lehigh County Jail’s low vaccine supply for inmates and staff is a matter of poor distribution at the federal level.
“One inmate and one corrections officer have recently died at the Lehigh County Jail. Is there anything that the Federal government can do to make it a little higher priority than it seems to be?” asked Lehigh Valley Press News.
“The most difficult challenge that we have right now is not nearly enough vaccines,” said Casey. “We need a couple of hundred million more [vaccines] to be able to vaccinate folks in different categories and certainly those correctional institutions are part of that. It seems that every day there’s a highlight or another group of Americans, or in this case Pennsylvanians, that need to be vaccinated.
“A lot of that is being driven by a lack of resources, a lack of vaccines and supplies and distribution. The most important thing we can do is to raise money so that we can speed up vaccinations to get at least to goal of 100 million shots into the arms of people in a hundred days if not faster. So, it’s really a case of supply and distribution at this point.”
Casey compared correctional facilities to long-term care facilities which had a disproportionate death rate early in the pandemic.
“A lot of the deaths were from people who worked there [in long-term care facilities]. It is similar to our jails and correctional institutions. We have to do everything we can to devote the dollars and the resources to get more vaccines out there and get the distribution moving faster. I hear you when you highlight yet another category where the vaccinations are not happening fasting enough.
“The state is in the process, as you know, of taking what has been distributed to the state and there has been a concentrated effort to focus on seniors in long-term care facilities and seniors more generally, but the most important thing any member of Congress can to right now is to do everything we can together to get a relief bill done. The President [Joseph Biden] has proposed $1.9 billion. The vaccination part of the bill alone will be transformative. By one estimate, it will be $160 billion to provide more resources for that vaccination. That will have a positive impact on seniors and people of all ages so that we can do everything we can to meet or exceed the president’s goal of 100 million shots in 100 days. I hope to go even higher than that.”
“That’s where things are now in terms of what’s happening both in Pennsylvania and around the country, but we need a lot more in the way of resources. Every member of Congress should vote the relief bill when we get it to a vote.”
Lehigh County commissioner and chair of the Courts and Corrections Committee Dave Harrington said as of a 2019 report, 25.8 percent of the male and 15.61 percent of the female population was Hispanic. He said that is an average over the year, and not a sample from any specific day.
The latest U.S. Census indicates that Lehigh County is 26.2 percent Hispanic or Latino. The Black or African American population is 9.9 percent and the White population (not Hispanic or Latino) of the county is 82.4 percent.
When asked if there a specific effort to reconcile the disparity of high infection rates among Latinos and essential workers, Casey did not answer directly.
“This is one of challenges we face,” said Casey, “when you don’t have enough production for distribution. That’s been the case not only in Pennsylvania but nationwide. We don’t have the distribution that we need. We need hundreds of millions more doses for the nation. When you don’t have that you are going to have a lot of people that are left out of the effort, nationally, to have more and more Americans vaccinated. The administration has told the pharmaceutical manufactures to ramp up the manufacture of vaccines. And it’s using the full power of the Federal government to do that whether it is [though] the Defense Production Act or otherwise.
“But in the end, the most important thing the Federal government can do is in the next couple of weeks is pass a big bill. Not a scaled-back bill, but a big bill that will have a double impact. Number one the virus and number two the economy. Getting vaccines and the public health measures funded, but also getting relief to the people that need it in the worst economy, certainly in my lifetime.”
Casey concluded, “There is no question that there are front-line workers, folks who live in communities of color, who are doing front-line work that haven’t got a vaccination and who need to get a vaccination to do their work and be safe. And that has to be a priority in getting the distribution of a lot more vaccines and get it out there real fast and get it in the arms of more and more Americans across the board but especially those that are vulnerable and [who] may be on the front line.”