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Pennsylvania Teachers, School Staff To Get 1-Dose Vaccine

Timothy D. Easley
An employee with the McKesson Corporation places a packing container of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine into a transport container to forward it to packing at their shipping facility in in Shepherdsville, Ky., Monday, March 1, 2021.

With growing emphasis on getting students back in schools, teachers and school staff will receive the first doses delivered to Pennsylvania of the newly approved one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, under Gov. Tom Wolf's plan being released Wednesday.

State officials expect a first shipment of 94,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to arrive this week as school districts face pressure to bring students back to classrooms for in-person instruction. Vaccination at more than two dozen sites around Pennsylvania could begin as early as next Wednesday, the governor's office said.

Giving the vaccine to teachers and other school staff will “help protect school communities and get more students back into classrooms,” Wolf's office said.

The goal is to offer every public and private school employee from teachers to bus drivers, with an initial focus on early childhood and elementary-school educators and staff, Wolf said. Taking the vaccine is supposed to be voluntary.

Teachers unions, superintendents, school boards and other education groups have asked Wolf to prioritize school staff for the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it an “absolutely essential” step toward reopening schools and keeping them open.

The state is still in Phase 1A of its vaccine plan, offering the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to health care workers, people age 65 and over and younger people with high-risk medical conditions — a population estimated to number at around 4 million. Many of them have not even received a first shot, with criticism of its rollout as haphazard and confusing.

Teachers currently are grouped in Phase 1B, along with child care workers, police, firefighters, grocery store workers and others considered to be essential workers.

Wolf's announcement comes less than a day after President Joe Biden said the U.S. should have enough coronavirus vaccine for all adults by the end of May — two months earlier than anticipated — and that states should make it a priority to vaccinate teachers in March to hasten school reopenings.

Statewide, Department of Education data shows about 121,000 public school and charter school teachers, plus another 100,000 full- and part-time support staff, as of last year.

In Philadelphia, which gets vaccine shipments directly from the federal government, city officials expect to receive 13,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week, with no additional doses for at least three weeks after.

The city plans to give the one-shot vaccine to providers that can administer them to people who are hard to reach or have a hard time returning for a second dose, such as people who are homebound or are homeless.

As of last month, about 450 of the state’s 500 school districts were offering at least some brick-and-mortar instruction, according to state data. About 1.3 million students are in those districts, while 440,000 students are in districts where instruction is strictly virtual.

To deploy the vaccine, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the departments of Education and Health are working through the state's 28 regional intermediate units to set up vaccine sites, the governor's office said.

Each intermediate unit region will have at least one vaccination location, with most starting between next Wednesday, March 10, and March 13.

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