Given the limited supply of COVID-19 vaccine available, the decision by Governor Tom Wolf and the Vaccine Task Force to reserve the initial lots of the state’s Johnson & Johnson vaccine for teachers and staff in the state. school is not doing well, some waiting for the vaccine.
Specifically, these include those eligible for phase 1A: the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. As vaccine distribution began in the state, Wolf administration officials told them they would join healthcare workers in the initial phase to get the arm shot.
But now many of them feel that the rules have changed.
Wolf and the Vaccine Task Force announced this week that the first state grants of the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine will be offered exclusively to school employees and educators. The state is receiving 124,000 doses of this vaccine this week, with at least the same amount if not more in two or three weeks.
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For older people and those with high-risk health conditions who are increasingly frustrated with the difficulty of trying to get vaccinated, it feels like their place on the priority list has slipped from a square.
“I think it’s important that everyone get vaccinated, but a pecking order was established early in the process,” said Robert Roderick of the Township of Lower Paxton. “The teachers ‘union appears to have used the pandemic to fill its wishlist and use teachers’ refusal to actually do their jobs as leverage. Now they are rewarded with a place at the head of the line. Pure and simple, Wolf gave in to their demands.
Some readers who contacted PennLive further accused the governor of showing favoritism towards the Pennsylvania State Education Association, one of its major contributors to the campaign, through this educator initiative.
Wolf spokeswoman Lyndsay Kensinger responded to the statements by pointing out that the decision to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the educators’ vaccination initiative was not a decision the governor made of his own. chief. It was the one that came from the bipartisan joint working group on vaccines.
Further, she said, “The federal government has asked states to prioritize immunization of teachers and school staff and it is being done. In view of the federal directive, this special initiative is needed to help prevent this newly eligible group from competing for appointments with people already in 1A. “
Wolf said he hopes the state’s 200,000 school and educator workers outside of Philadelphia will receive the vaccine, or at least offer it to him, by the end of March. Philadelphia receives its own vaccine allowance but she also set the end of March as a goal to vaccinate its school employees.
Republican Senator Ryan Aument of Lancaster County, who is on the Vaccine Task Force, called the state educators’ immunization initiative “a major step forward in our efforts to fight COVID 19 and restore and rebuild a stronger Pennsylvania ”.
He said the task force saw this as an opportunity “to get our kids back to school, bring parents back to work, help families in Pennsylvania, strengthen our communities, and further position our economy for. recovery and growth ”.
Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam further defended the decision on Thursday, saying the move did not make those in Phase 1A any lower priority. She said the increasing number of doses of Pfizer and Moderna vaccines the state receives will continue to be available to this population, so this does not delay those in Phase 1A from receiving vaccination.
Wolf said on Friday the state had received enough Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to protect 450,000 people this week.
Yet people like Roderick don’t buy it.
“Now his administration is trying to tell us poor, stupid, uneducated public that putting teachers first has no effect on the elderly who are trying to find the vaccine. Most of us were born at night, but it wasn’t last night, ”Roderick said.
Members of the working group said they were determined to continue efforts to distribute doses efficiently, effectively and equitably to reach the estimated 4 million in Phase 1A so they can start scaling up to those in Phase 1A. phase 1B and beyond.
Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey said the teachers’ union understands the need for vulnerable Pennsylvanians to have access to the vaccine as quickly as possible and that this educator immunization program is in place to do not harm that.
“Instead, it fills a vital need in our community: to enable school staff to have access to the vaccine so that we can ensure that more students receive in-person instruction in the most appropriate way. safer possible, ”Askey said.
As seniors feel helpless that they don’t have a strong union like PSEA fighting for them, Bill Johnston-Walsh, AARP’s state director in Pennsylvania, said his organization is standing up for the 65-year-old. and more to make sure it doesn’t get lost. the hierarchical order of vaccines.
He said: “Since people 50 and over are responsible for 98% of deaths from COVID-19, we are counting on state officials to continue to prioritize the elderly.”
Jan Murphy can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @JanMurphy.