by Andrea Sears.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Many older Pennsylvanians say they are encountering roadblocks as they try to schedule appointments to get the COVID vaccine. 

The Keystone State has initiated the 1-A phase of vaccination distribution, making 2.5 million Pennsylvanians age 65 and older eligible to receive the vaccine. 

But according to Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director of AARP Pennsylvania, people are being frustrated by long delays and malfunctions with the phone and web systems the state has created to help people make appointments with health-care providers, hospitals and pharmacies to actually receive their vaccinations.

“They’re being held on lines but can’t get through,” said Johnston-Walsh. “The websites tell them that they can’t sign up for a vaccination right now. There’s overflowing mailboxes, automated messages saying that there’s no appointments available at this time.”

AARP has sent a letter to Gov. Tom Wolf calling for greater transparency and expanded distribution to assure vaccine availability in all communities throughout the state.

Johnston-Walsh said it’s not just the logistics of scheduling the appointments that’s getting in the way. He noted that the state needs about 8 million doses to cover the two-dose regimen for everyone in the current vaccination phase.

“We’re only at 1.5,” said Johnston-Walsh. “So, we have a long way to go just to get through phase 1-A, never mind go on to the other phases and then also try to vaccinate all Pennsylvanians.”

He noted they also are hearing that the state process for approving those who are qualified to administer the vaccine has been slow.

Johnston-Walsh said he’s urging the state to approve every pharmacy to administer the vaccines, and to create state-run “one-stop-shopping” information and assistance for seniors.

“Where Pennsylvanians can go to the Department of Health web site and/or a 1-800 number to find out where there is a site and then help them sign up for it,” said Johnston-Walsh.

AARP also is urging the state to increase public awareness of vaccine allocations and ensure that updates on vaccine administration are posted on a public website.