UPMC’s community clinics are vaccinating local residents against COVID-19 one age group at a time.

“Everyone wants to get vaccinated right away,” said Susan Duchman, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief nursing officer for UPMC in the Susquehanna Region. “One of our goals was to create a trustworthy schedule and make sure it’s very fair prioritization.”

To collect registration information for its community clinics in Tioga, Potter, Lycoming and Clinton counties, UPMC has a new online system at https://vaccine.upmc.com/.

There, registrants are asked for their name, contact information, date of birth and whether they have any underlying medical conditions that increase their risk for severe illness from COVID-19. A list of such medical conditions can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/people-with-medical-conditions.html.

Duchman said those eligible to get vaccinated will usually receive an email from UPMC with available clinic dates and times. They then call to schedule an appointment. Those without internet access can call 844-876-2822, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

Duchman said the online tool doesn’t automatically schedule someone or guarantee an appointment; it depends on their age, clinic schedules and availability of vaccines.

Currently, the clinics are open for residents 75 years and older. When the majority of registrants in that age group has been vaccinated, Duchman said UPMC will open the clinics to ages 65 and older, and so on, as the state moves through its phased vaccination release.

“We started with our super seniors, those 90 years old and up,” she said. “Now, we’re scheduling those 75 and up. There is no timeline for 65-plus, yet.”

Pennsylvania’s vaccine distribution is in Phase 1A, which includes those 75 years and older and anyone 16 and older with a comorbid condition. Duchman said these include chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity and renal disease, among others on the U.S. Center for Disease Control’s list.

To find out if you’re eligible to receive a vaccine now, visit https://covidportal.health.pa.gov/s/Your-Turn.

Duchman said UPMC is asking that only those actually eligible for a vaccine right now submit the online form, as not to clog the system. Those who apply and aren’t currently eligible will not receive an email right away, but will be kept in the database and contacted when they become eligible. Filling out the form before you’re eligible does not mean you’re first on the list, said Duchman, and actually increases the chance of missing the email when it’s sent.

“The best thing we can say is to follow the guidelines the Department of Health has put out for who is in 1A category,” said Duchman. “This allows us to cover who is most vulnerable to who is least vulnerable.”

Hundreds of Tioga and Potter county residents were vaccinated last week at clinics at the old high school in Wellsboro and at the UPMC Wellness Center in Coudersport. Duchman said further clinics are scheduled three to four weeks out, and more will be planned as vaccines are available.

“Everyone wants this to be a very fast process, but as we have to wait for deliveries of more vaccines, we aren’t scheduling anyone until we know there will be one available,” she said. “If you’re scheduled with us, you will be getting a vaccine no matter what.”

Duchman said at the clinics, those scheduled are asked to present identification then directed to individual stations to receive the vaccine. Each person then goes to a separate station where they’re monitored for 15 minutes for side effects or allergic reactions. Most side effects observed to date are mild.

“Compared to bad case of COVID, this is a walk in the park,” she said.

The last step before leaving the clinic, said Duchman, is getting scheduled for the follow-up vaccine a few weeks later. The process will be the same.

“It’s really important for the community to understand that even though this is a vaccine, it doesn’t mean you no longer have to wear a mask or practice social distancing or hand hygiene,” said Duchman. “Not everyone has received the vaccine and not everyone will be able to receive it due to health complications. I can’t stress enough how important it’s for all of us to continue to do these things until enough of the community is vaccinated and we have this under control.”