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PA Legislators Approve Bill For National Guard Assistance In COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
A member of the Pennsylvania National Guard at a food distribution event in 2020.

Pennsylvania state Senators unanimously approved abill Wednesday that would require the Department of Health to work with the state’s National Guard to plan regional COVID-19 vaccination sites across the Commonwealth.

The House of Representatives earlier this month also approved the bill unanimously. A spokesperson for Gov. Tom Wolf said he intends to sign it.

The bill’s sponsor, Washington County Republican Rep. Timothy O’Neal, said several other states are already using their National Guards to assist with vaccine roll out.

“Across the board, I think we in government have certainly recognized how our vaccine rollout has gone thus far is simply unacceptable,” he said. “I think this is an opportunity for government, across party lines, to show the citizens of the Commonwealth that we can truly work together to help address some of these issues.” 

The bill requires the National Guard to work with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Health to develop a plan that identifies how the guard could support the state with logistics and preparation for future community vaccination clinics.

It does not require Wolf to deploy troops for vaccine distribution, a power solely granted to the governor under the state constitution.

“The administration is looking at ways to incorporate all available assets at our disposal including the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, and other county and community partners into our vaccination strategy,” Wolf’s office said Wednesday. “These entities have valuable skill sets and abilities to contribute to this important task.”

Once signed, the administration has 45 days to complete a report on how to establish National Guard-run vaccination sites without compromising the guard's current missions.

Throughout the pandemic, the guard has been deployed at some of the state’s long-term care facilities to assist staff with caring for residents, transporting supplies and administering COVID-19 tests.

O’Neal said current vaccine providers don’t need to worry about their supply getting rerouted to the National Guard. 

“This is about planning for the future,” he said. “This is about ensuring that we have the distribution plan in place to, as soon as that supply becomes more abundant, we are able to execute and start getting this out as fast as possible."

Regional vaccination sites could help the Commonwealth’s rural areas. Some towns have a single COVID-19 vaccine provider, according to O’Neal. 

“One pharmacy who has one pharmacist that’s been authorized as the provider and can give out 20 shots a day, and that’s really the capacity in this town,” he said. 

The bill is on its way to the governor’s desk.

Kiley Koscinski covers city government, policy and how Pittsburghers engage with city services. She also works as a fill-in host for All Things Considered. Kiley has previously served as a producer on The Confluence and Morning Edition.