PA National Guard Called to Action to Help in Vaccine Distribution

PITTSBURGH — A big step was taken Wednesday for vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania, as the National Guard is finally being called into action.

“We need to use every resource the Commonwealth has to do this as effectively and efficiently as possible,” said State Representative Tim O’Neal, a Republican from Washington County.

O’Neal sponsored House Bill 326, which called for the state to develop a plan to utilize the Guard. He’s among many in the state who have wanted the Guard called up to help sooner. The legislation got bipartisan support, and Governor Tom Wolf signed it into law today.

“I’m a former member of the PA national guard, and I understand how well they are when it comes to logistics,” O’Neal said.

Help with Rocky Rollout

O’Neal said he believes this step will help to improve the rocky rollout we’ve seen with vaccine distribution in Pennsylvania, which has lagged behind many other states. He said he decided to sponsor the bill after seeing the success neighboring state West Virginia had by using its National Guard for vaccine distribution.

“At one point in time they [West Virginia] were leading the nation with their vaccine distribution, and there’s no doubt in my mind a large reason why is they got the National Guard engaged early on,” he said.

Now, Pennsylvania’s Guard will ramp up quickly. They are putting a call out for members to volunteer, asking for everything from doctors, nurses, and medics to logistical support personnel.

“It’s going to vary from region to region, but you might see the Guard giving vaccinations at clinics, as well as providing logistical support, [like] registering somebody, verifying they are eligible,” O’Neal explained.

Decision to Expedite Teacher Vaccines

The quick decision announced today by Governor Wolf to immediately begin vaccinating teachers and school support staff is expediting the need for the Guard’s help. Central vaccination sites for teachers are expected to begin by March 10th.

“We found out approximately 36 hours ago,” Montour’s Schools Superintendent Dr. Christopher Stone told WPXI, saying he was surprised by the state’s move but excited for his employees.

Stone said they are now rushing to identify teachers who still need shots.

“We’ve already started communicating with staff,” he said. “And in the next 12 to 24 hours we’ll be sending out surveys to identify those who still needs the vaccine.”

The Montour School District has about 225 teachers and statewide, there are about 200,000, so it will be a challenge to ramp up the logistics by next week.

“We’ve got to figure out which teachers are going on which days, how we’re going to get them there, and, of course, what we’re going to do with children when teachers are getting vaccinated.”

Stone says the shots are expected to be administered at the Allegheny County Intermediate Unit location in Homestead.

He’s hopeful things will go smoothly, despite the short time frame to prepare.

“Fingers and toes crossed!” he said, laughing.

After school personnel in the state are vaccinated, the Guard is expected to shift its attention to helping with mass vaccination sites for the public.