Starting March 10, roughly 200,000 educators and support staff can receive the COVID-19 vaccine through Pennsylvania’s newest mass immunization plan.
Pennsylvania’s first 94,600 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s one-shot vaccine will be prioritized for teachers, administrators, bus drivers and other school support staff so in-person instruction can resume full-time across the state, Gov. Tom Wolf and the state’s vaccine task force said Wednesday.
A pharmacy partnership will earmark another 30,000 doses for the program; meaning a majority of educators and support staff could return to the classroom by the end of the month, Wolf said.
We’re basically saying to teachers, ‘we want you to get back to teaching and we are going to make this [vaccine] available,’” Wolf told reporters Wednesday. “The state can’t force it … but, if you’ve been offered a vaccine, you ought to be willing to go back to school.”
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will partner with the state’s 28 intermediate units to establish vaccination sites in each region and contact eligible workers. The Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will administer the shots.
“We are going to see the doses increase dramatically over the next couple of weeks; and folks in Lancaster County and all across the state are going to benefit from that,” said Sen. Ryan Aument, R-Lancaster. “I’m extremely pleased with what’s happening.”
J&J vaccine to be used
The Food and Drug Administration approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine over the weekend. The first 2.8 million doses will hit states this week. Overall, deliveries of all three vaccines from the federal government to states will exceed 15 million this week in a slow and steady ramp up to immunize 100 million Americans during the president’s first 100 days in office.
“These vaccines are effective and safe; and no matter what ethnic or racial background you come from, they are effective and safe,” said Sen. Art Haywood, D-Philadelphia. “And if the choice is being vaccinated or being one of the half million people no longer on the planet; to me, the choice is clear.”
Wolf also dispelled concerns about the lower efficacy rate of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine seen during testing; saying that it’s not less effective at preventing the worst symptoms of COVID-19.
“That should not be a concern,” he said. “It’s 100% effective in terms of hospitalization and 100% in prevention of death. There might be a slightly higher risk that you could feel some sickness; but it’s 100% effective from keeping that illness from getting more serious.”
New plan is addition to Phase 1A
The plan will operate alongside Phase 1A, Wolf said. It will prioritize teachers and staff that work with younger children and special education students – who are more susceptible to learning loss and require child care without in-person instruction – before moving through those that work with middle and high school students. Child care workers will also be included in the plan.
“We need to be able to get our kids back to school and continue to prioritize our senior citizens with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines,” Aument said. “This plan allows us to accomplish both goals simultaneously to move our students, families, communities, and our economy forward and beyond the pandemic.”
Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.