Effort to vaccinate Pennsylvania teachers, school staff ahead of schedule as state ramps up vaccine distribution
Pennsylvania has vaccinated more than 80,000 teachers and school staff in just one week, allowing the state to accelerate its plans to vaccinate all educators by the end of the month.
"We will have offered the vaccine to every teacher, every school staff member and every early childhood educator in the commonwealth — not just those in pre-K and elementary settings — by the end of the month," Gov. Tom Wolf said during a visit Friday to the Bucks County Intermediate Unit in Doylestown Township.
"I want to thank all our educators to rising to the challenge every day this year. I know teachers want to get back into the classroom just as much as our students."
The news came as the Department of Health announced new strategies to get the COVID-19 into more Pennsylvanians’ arms, including an effort to offer additional vaccine supplies to a selected group of providers.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday said Pennsylvania ranks second in the nation, behind New Mexico, for the number of doses administered per 100,000 residents over the past week.
As of Friday, more than 4 million doses had been administered statewide; more than 1.3 million people are now fully vaccinated.
"We're making great progress, Wolf said.
Teacher vaccinations ahead of schedule
In partnership with intermediate units and some retail pharmacies across the state, Pennsylvania on March 10 kicked off an effort to vaccinate teachers, school staff and early childhood education workers using 94,600 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
The initial goal was to vaccinate teachers and staff who work in elementary schools and with vulnerable populations by the end of the month. But thanks to an additional 26,000 doses of the J&J vaccine sent to the state this week, that goal has been expanded to middle and high school teachers and staff, as well.
In Bucks County alone, 9,000 doses were to be administered by the end of the weekend, said Bucks IU director Mark Hoffman.
Wolf said the accelerated pace will help get children "back to school faster than we even expected."
"Thanks for making this happen," said PSEA President Rich Askey. "Now let's get back to school."
State to create focused provider network
Outside of teacher vaccination, the state next week plans to send larger shipments of vaccine to “a focused network of 200-300 providers,” with assurances of a steady supply for the coming weeks.
Those providers – consisting of hospitals, pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers and public health providers – included in the initiative were selected based on geographic reach, access for residents, equity across demographics, vaccine throughput and estimated demand, the state said.
According to the DOH, the selection process considered the ability to administer a high volume of doses within the first week of delivery while maintaining racial, ethnic and socioeconomic equity, as well as the ability to collect and report vaccine administration data within 24 hours.
Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said that three to five mass vaccination sites may be included in this group of providers.
“What we have now is a stronger network of providers who cover 95% of the state and are located within a two-mile radius in urban areas, five miles in suburban areas and 30 miles in rural areas,” Beam said.
“Because there are fewer providers we will get more vaccine to them so they won’t run out as quickly as they have in the past. As always, we will be evaluating the effectiveness of the network to ensure that vaccine is accessible and provided equitably and quickly to get people vaccinated.”
Beam noted that as vaccine supplies catch up to demand, the network of providers will be expanded to get more vaccine to people across the commonwealth.
Providers must continue to follow existing requirements as outlined in the Secretary of Health’s Order, including throughput capacity, data reporting and a commitment to reach diverse populations. The DOH is encouraging providers to plan and schedule appointments more than a week in advance based on receiving at least the same amount of vaccine to align with the most recent amendment issued on March 16.