HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania PreK-12 teachers and staff, as well as child care workers, will be able to get Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine, Gov. Tom Wolf announced last week.
Teachers and staff who work in Pre-K and elementary instruction, as well as special education, will be prioritized in the first round. This is because “younger children are more susceptible to learning loss and their families are more likely to have childcare challenges,” a news release said.
The vaccine is voluntary.
The vaccination of teachers is separate from Phase 1A, the current phase of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. Everyone who was previously eligible for Phase 1A will continue to be.
Gov. Tom Wolf and his COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force announced its new teacher vaccination initiative on March 3, which could speed up how quickly students get back to school full-time.
The announcement came with a bold prediction: educators and staff will be vaccinated by the end of the month, meaning full in-person learning could return in a matter of weeks.
“We should have enough vaccines to cover the education community private and public by the end of March,” Wolf said.
Even before the announcement, it appeared the plan was moving full steam ahead. Early Wednesday morning, CVS’ website listed K-12 teachers, as well as daycare and preschool workers and staff, as eligible for the vaccine.
Officials believe that by vaccinating more teachers, more students can get back into classrooms.
Wolf emphasized that vaccinations are only part of the strategy. Masking and social distancing will remain in place as students return to the classrooms.
“What we’re saying is if you’ve been offered the vaccine you ought to come back to school and be willing to work in the classroom,” Wolf said.
The new supply of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine will be used to meet the need when it arrives in Pennsylvania this week. Wolf said the state will get 94,600 doses -- all of which will be used for teachers, teaching staff, administration, bus drivers and other school workers.
Wolf said the vaccine will be offered to every public and private school worker.
Wolf said there are an estimated 200,000 teachers and staff who are now prioritized to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Some in that group may have already received a vaccine or will not want one.
HOW THE VACCINATION PROCESS WILL WORK
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the departments of Education and Health are partnering with the 28 Intermediate Units to establish vaccine sites. The Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will administer the vaccine.
Each intermediate unit region will have a least one vaccination location, according to the news release. Most locations will start vaccinations between March 10 and 13.
“We anticipate that the majority of these sites will support up to 500 doses a day, with some of the sites in IU’s with higher amounts of teachers and support staff being able to administer up to 1,000 doses a day,” PEMA Director Randy Padfield said in a statement. “We anticipate most sites will be completed administering the first round of available vaccine in 8-10 days.”
Pennsylvania’s allocation of the vaccine from the federal government will be distributed to each IU “based on the proportion of Pre-K to 12 public and non-public school employees and contracted staff in each IU’s region,” officials said.
Eligible school staff will receive information about vaccine locations and registration instructions. They will be directed to the vaccination site in the region within which their school is located.
IUs will work with Pre-K to 12 school entities to identify staff who are interested in receiving the vaccine. The following people will be given the first opportunity to register:
- Pre-K-12 teachers of students with disabilities and English learners and related in-classroom support staff
- Elementary teachers and related in-classroom support staff, beginning with the youngest students
- Bus drivers/transporters, and support staff and contracted service providers who have direct contact with elementary students
- Other priority school staff who have regular, sustained in-person contact with students during the school day
“This is a new world for all of us and I don’t think as educators anybody anticipated being put in this spot,” Aaron Skrbin, Allegheny Intermediate Unit Safety and Security Director, said. “The actual clinic itself is not all that complicated of a process. It’s getting the information to get people scheduled and get them there that’s the more complex thing.”
Child care workers will be contacted by one of the local Retail Pharmacy Program partners -- Rite Aid, Topco and Walmart -- to schedule vaccinations.
HELP FROM THE NATIONAL GUARD
Wolf signed a bipartisan bill Wednesday to deploy the National guard to help with distribution
Rep. Tim O’Neal said as a former member of the National Guard, he understands how good they are when it comes to logistics, and fully supports the plan.
A good example is what was seen in West Virginia when the Guard was used for their rollout.
“At one point in time they 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,” O’Neal said.
The National Guard will be looking for members to volunteer -- from doctors, nurses and medics -- to general support personnel.
“You might see the Guard giving vaccines at the clinic, as well as provide that logistical support to register somebody to verify they’re on that approved teachers’ list,” O’Neal said.
STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
It’s a long time coming for teachers at Pittsburgh Public Schools.
“Everybody’s ready, the kids, the teachers, principals. Everybody’s ready to welcome our kids back. We can’t wait, it’s been almost a year,” Nina Esposito-Visgitis, with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, said.
While it’s the news educators and parents have been waiting for, there are still more than 1 million Pennsylvanians in Phase 1A wondering when it will be their turn to get the vaccine.
“That’s true, and back in January or December when 1A was established, there were a shortage of vaccines,” Wolf said. “I think with the task force, we’re doing a better job of figuring out how to get that limited supply out and there are more vaccines available this week than last week.”
Pennsylvania received more than 330,000 first doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines this week for people in 1A, about twice what was received a week ago.
This news is a major relief for teachers like Kelly Collins, who told Channel 11 the added protection from the virus will ease concerns of spreading it in the classroom.
“Being there four days a week it does make me nervous because some of the kids don’t wear their masks properly, and it has been proven people can still get it even though they have been wearing masks,” Collins said.
The state is setting aside 124,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for educators across Pa. That’s enough to vaccinate more than 60% of teachers.