Most teachers in Pennsylvania could be vaccinated and ready to return to classrooms by the end of March, state officials said Wednesday, announcing that educators and school personnel will receive priority for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Gov. Tom Wolf said giving educators the first injection of Johnson & Johnson vaccine is “an important step in getting students back to the classroom safely.”
Using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the first single-dose injection to receive emergency clearance, means there is no waiting period of weeks for immunity to take effect, Wolf said.
“As long as we are eliminating this immediately,” he said of the plan for educators, “we should get teachers to start working again by the end of the month.”
In a press release, the Allegheny Intermediate Unit said it will coordinate with the Pennsylvania National Guard and AMI Expeditionary Healthcare, LLC, to oversee site operations, including vaccine scheduling and administration. Vaccinations are expected to begin March 10. Scheduling information will be communicated directly to eligible individuals, according to the release.
Most districts in the region have already offered some degree of in-person learning or had already made plans to return to the classroom prior to the governor’s announcement. But the initiative, school leaders say, is one that appreciates and affirms the important role of teachers and school staff in returning to normal life.
“It doesn’t change any plans, it just helps solidify that students returning to the buildings, along with the staff, will be safer,” said James Harris, superintendent of the Woodland Hills School District.
Woodland Hills has been completely remote this year, but had already made tentative plans to move to a hybrid model in late March. The district will present the plan to the school board on March 10. If the board approves that plan, the availability of vaccinations for teachers will only “speed up” the process and make teachers and staff more comfortable, Harris said.
Tim Scott, superintendent of the Kiski Area School District, said the initiative is a step in the right direction, although questions remain about the logistics of vaccine scheduling, which will be handled through 28 intermediate units throughout the condition. Scott said he’s still figuring out whether or not school days will need to be canceled so staff can get vaccinated, and it’s still unclear how quickly high school teachers and staff, who generally have higher infection rates, can expect. receive your first dose.
“I’ll be relieved,” Scott said. “Right now I am getting this and I keep getting information. … I am pleased that there is a plan to vaccinate our people who work with children every day ”.
Scott said widespread teacher vaccinations likely won’t change the district’s instructional model this year. The district has offered four in-person learning days with one virtual learning day since November. He said the Kiski Area will likely stick to this plan for the remainder of the year, to ensure everyone remains connected to remote procedures during the uncertainty of the pandemic.
Gennaro Piraino, superintendent of Franklin regional schools, expressed concern about the delay in vaccinating secondary school teachers, although he said he understands that elementary school students have been the hardest hit by learning loss and represent the largest I defy being left alone while the parents try to do their thing. works. Piraino doesn’t think there should be any distinction between which teachers and which staff should get the vaccine first.
“One of the things we hear from state government all the time is ‘follow the science,'” he said. “When you look at the science of this virus, high school students are more likely to spread the virus.”
Piraino noted that the initiative does not solve everything: the districts still have security guidelines that include physical distance restrictions that could prevent them from reopening completely. And while he’s glad educators are now a priority, he said there is still a “free for all” with districts vying for access to their staff.
“This is probably the best we have seen in terms of handling the pandemic,” he said. “It’s still not great though.”
Wolf said rough estimates indicate that about 200,000 people will be included in the initiative, which includes not only teachers, but also aides, bus drivers, administrators and more. That doesn’t take into account educators who fell into the original category 1A or those who might reject the vaccine.
“We need them to go back to school, and if you’ve been offered a vaccine, you must be willing to go back to school,” he said.
Wolf said that among educators, those who work with pre-kindergarten and elementary students, special education students, English Language Learners and other support personnel will receive priority.
He said prioritizing teachers for the first Johnson & Johnson vaccine shipments will not delay efforts to vaccinate others in phase 1A.
Between the Department of Health and pharmacies that are part of the federal partnership, the state will receive a total of 124,000 doses this week, Wolf said.
Teachers, along with a host of other groups considered essential workers, were scheduled for vaccination in phase 1B, although health officials have said there is no timetable for moving to the next phase of vaccination.
By its original definition, more than 4 million Pennsylvanians fall into category 1A, meaning the state would need more than 9 million doses of the two-dose vaccines to reach everyone. So far, the state has administered about 2.5 million doses. Around 762,000 residents are fully vaccinated.
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