Pfizer vaccine. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

Starting March 19, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) will add people ages 50-64 to its list of those available for Covid vaccinations at county-sponsored sites, as long as they meet the Phase 1A requirements for underlying health conditions.

Those conditions include cancer, chronic kidney disease, COPD, Down syndrome, heart conditions (but not high blood pressure), obesity, pregnancy, sickle cell disease, smoking, Type 2 diabetes and those who are immunocompromised.

“We remain committed in our vaccination approach to serve the most at-risk in our county first,” says Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) Director Debra Bogen. “By the end of the week, at least 50% of those county residents who are 65 years of age and older will have received at least one vaccine. Although we still have work to do serving this population, these data tell us we need to expand our eligibility requirements for vaccination.”

To make this happen, new mass vaccination sites are opening soon. The Petersen Events Center in Oakland will be a temporary site open four days next week.

A site at Central Baptist Church in the Hill District will open March 22. It will be run by Duquesne University’s Center for Integrative Health, with the objective of targeting certain communities and populations that have yet to be reached. That includes those with accessibility and translation needs.

A site at the Ross Township Community Center will open the week of March 24, and will be staffed by the ACHD and Medical Reserve Corps.

The Castle Shannon site at the Castle Shannon Fire Department Banquet Hall (3600 Library Road) continues to operate, staffed by volunteers from the American Red Cross and Medical Rescue Team South Authority.

Vaccines are available by appointment only, through ACHD. The public should not contact individual sites.

All appointment openings will be announced through Allegheny Alerts and then will be posted on the county’s COVID-19 Vaccine Information page. Those without internet access — or who have trouble navigating the online registration system — may contact 2-1-1 for assistance in scheduling when appointments are available.

Anyone not meeting the criteria for 1A will be turned away.

Second dose appointments will be provided at the same location as the first, in the 28-42-day window recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Other states, such as Ohio, have moved aggressively to open up vaccine eligibility. This week, the vaccine is available to everyone age 40 and above. Vaccinations will open to all those aged 16 and older at the end of March.

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.