March 03, 2021
Pennsylvania will use the newly-authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccine to inoculate teachers and school staffers against the coronavirus, Gov. Tom Wolf said Wednesday.
State officials view the single-shot vaccine as a critical to getting more students back in the classroom. The two other COVID-19 vaccines authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration each require two shots administered several weeks apart.
"We want to keep staff and students safer in schools and we want to help students get back into the classroom faster by doing it this way than any other way that we could conceive," Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency will work with the state's 28 intermediate units to set up vaccination sites. Each IU region will have at least one vaccination site. Many sites will begin inoculations next week.
The Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will administer the vaccine doses. The state's health and education departments will assist in efforts to establish vaccination sites.
The effort will not include Philadelphia, which operates its own vaccine distribution. The city began offering vaccines to teachers and school staffers last week through a partnership with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
Pennsylvania expects to received 94,600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.
Teachers who have regular and sustained in-person contact with students will receive top priority. That includes teachers who work closely with pre-K and Kindergarten students, students with disabilities and English learners. Those children have the greatest need for in-person instruction and their parents are more likely to have child care challenges, state officials said.
Teachers who work with older elementary school students, as well as middle and high school students, will come next in the distribution process.
State officials are working with retail pharmacies to ensure all early childhood education workers and child care staffers also can receive Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine, Wolf said.
The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, applauded the state's decision to prioritize teachers.
"This is an incredibly important step toward returning Pennsylvania's schools and communities to in-person instruction and ensuring that students, school staff members, their families and their communities are better protected from COVID-19," PSEA President Rich Askey said. "This is good for everyone, and we thank Gov. Wolf and lawmakers for their leadership and their commitment to getting this done."
Wolf insisted that committing initial supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to educators will not slow down the state's ability to inoculate residents.
Pennsylvania is currently in Phase 1A of its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan. The pool of eligible recipients includes long-term care facility residents, health care workers, senior citizens and people with underlying high-risk medical conditions.
State officials also updated their guidance on when schools should use remote, hybrid and in-person instruction models.
In-person instruction is recommended for schools in counties with low levels of community spread. Hybrid learning is encouraged in counties experiencing moderate COVID-19 transmission, as well as for elementary students in counties with substantial levels of transmission. Remote learning should be implemented for middle and high school students in counties with significant COVID-19 transmission.
Both Chester and Philadelphia counties fall into the category of moderate community spread. Bucks, Delaware and Montgomery counties currently have substantial levels of COVID-19 transmission.
President Joe Biden has called for all students in Kindergarten through eighth grade to be back in school five days a week by the end of April. He also has called for teachers to be prioritized for vaccines.
Last month, the CDC revised its guidelines for reopening schools. The guidance identified five essential strategies: face masks, social distancing, hand hygiene, sanitation and improving ventilation, and isolation and quarantines. Vaccines were considered an additional layer of prevention.