Initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine from Johnson & Johnson in Pennsylvania will go into the arms of school and daycare workers.
The state expects to receive a first batch of 94,000 doses of the new vaccine this week. It will be reserved for the launch of a vaccination of educators initiative to reopen schools and daycares for in-person instruction.
Governor Tom Wolf, along with members of the Joint COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, plan to hold a press conference at 11 a.m. on Wednesday to share more details on the effort.
Wolf told a press conference on Tuesday that the task force sees a unique opportunity to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to specifically target this group of frontline workers. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is given all at once, unlike the two-dose vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer. Eventually, Wolf said others, including police and fire personnel and grocery store clerks, would be given priority.
Given the race between vaccinations and the emerging COVID-19 variants, the governor said, “We want to do this as quickly as possible. “
Senator Ryan Aument, of R-Lancaster County, who is part of the seven-member task force, said daycare workers and elementary teachers, as well as school support staff are given priority for this initial allocation of Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The task force’s expectation, he said, is to remove this obstacle that has prevented some schools from reopening.
“This is an important priority for families in Pennsylvania. It is important for our students and the community at large to get people back to work, especially parents of elementary-aged children… and honestly to get students back to school so that they can learn and socialize with their children. comrades, ”Aument said.
The task force estimates that there are nearly 200,000 school and child care workers outside of Philadelphia who are eligible to receive the vaccine. Philadelphia receives its own direct vaccine allocation from the federal government.
Excluding school workers who are already eligible for phase 1A of the state’s immunization program and those who do not want the vaccine, Aument said he hopes that by the end of March or in early April, all school employees who want the vaccine will have had the opportunity to be vaccinated so that schools can reopen.
“As to the specific trigger for reopening these school buildings, it will certainly depend on the number of teachers vaccinated and the number of teachers who have been offered the vaccine and who have refused,” Aument said.
He expects information on this to be published by the Ministry of Education.
At the end of February, 39% of Pennsylvania public schools were still completely isolated, with just 20% operating entirely in person, the rest in a hybrid format.
Aument said the task force sees this initiative as separate from the state’s gradual roll-out of immunization, which has been a critical issue for those who see the state as putting educators ahead of vulnerable citizens. and aged.
“This special initiative to get our children back to school and vaccinate teachers is not putting teachers ahead of our elders in [Phase] 1A, ”Aument said. “It’s clearer to think of this as a special category, not 1A.”
Aument said the elderly and others eligible to receive the vaccine under Phase 1A will continue to be a priority for the state’s Moderna and Pfizer vaccine allocations. Those allocations are increasing and are expected to continue to do so over the coming weeks, Aument said.
“Educators and teachers will not be eligible for Moderna or Pfizer unless they are 1A [eligible], “he said.” This is a special allowance based on Johnson & Johnson’s initial Commonwealth distribution which will be distributed outside of the current supplier network at a separate location. “
Pennsylvania State Education Association president Rich Askey and lawmakers urged the Wolf administration to speed up access to a vaccine for school employees.
In a statement released on Monday, Askey said, “Such a plan would be extraordinarily good news for the health and safety of everyone in our schools. The men and women who teach and serve our students have gone above and beyond for their students in a time of unprecedented challenge. Our schools are essential and immunizing the dedicated people who put them to work is essential to ensuring the safety and health of all. “
U.S. Representative Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Montgomery County, welcomed the news. She and other members of the Democratic House wrote a joint letter to Wolf on Monday urging the governor to speed up the rollout of the vaccine, especially for teachers.
“Our teachers and schools help keep families on track,” Dean said on Twitter. “The sooner they are vaccinated, the sooner our students will be able to return to school. “
Aument said that once the vaccines have been given to all the educators who want them, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be in the mix with Moderna and Pfizer “so we can continue to shut down all people in 1A and start to talk about 1B. “
According to the state Department of Health’s website, Phase 1B includes people living in collective facilities that are not otherwise specified as long-term care facilities; those who receive home and community services; first responders; correctional officers and other workers serving people in collective care establishments not included in phase 1A; food and agricultural workers; workers in the US postal service; manufacturing workers; employees of grocery stores; education workers; clergy and other essential supports for places of worship; public transport workers; and caregivers of children or adults in early childhood and adult day programs.
Jan Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.