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Legislation to involve Pa. National Guard in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, administration under consideration

The bill would require the Pa. National Guard to create a plan on how they could be utilized, specifically at mass vaccination sites.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — A bill to get the Pennsylvania National Guard involved in COVID-19 vaccine distribution and administration moves one step closer to reality. Currently, Gov. Wolf can and has used the state's national guard to help with vaccine distribution. This bill won't force him to use them, but instead is seen as a pre-planning tool. 

State Rep. Timothy O'Neal, a republican representing part of Washington County says, his bill would require the PA National Guard to develop an operational plan on how they would assist in vaccine distribution if called upon. It would also require the Wolf Administration to issue a report to the General Assembly about the National Guard's capabilities when it comes to vaccine distribution. 

While supply of the vaccine may currently be an issue, Rep. O'Neal believes we are close to having the capacity to open mass vaccination sites. Ideally, he envisions the PA National Guard helping when mass vaccinations sites are set up, especially in rural counties where there may not be infrastructure in place to support this type of effort. 

"When it comes down to it from my past experience, the military are experts when it comes to logistics and in this case when it comes to the PA National Guard, literally move millions of dollars worth of equipment, thousands of people across the world in a short amount of time, effectively and efficiently," said Rep. O'Neal. "There isn't any reason why they shouldn't be involved in vaccine distribution." 

As the bill moves through the House and Senate, it has received bipartisan support, which was also a goal of Rep. O'Neal. He wanted to show Pennsylvanians different parties and different branches of government can work together to tackle this issue. 

The Wolf administration has utilized the PA National Guard during vaccinations at nursing homes. Governor Wolf has also said, he is looking at every option, including utilizing the PA National Guard in the future.

The Wolf Administration issued this statement in regards to this legislation:

"The Wolf Administration is continuously looking at how we can update and improve the vaccine distribution across the commonwealth, however, there are key problems as House Bill 326 is written including: 

  • The bill instructs the National Guard to establish and operate 67 vaccine distribution sites throughout the commonwealth. This would interfere with the Governor’s authority to command the Guard; 
  • The Guard’s medical units are being relied upon by our long term care facilities for crisis staffing during outbreaks.  The integrity of that mission is very important to our most vulnerable populations; and 
  • This bill does not create more doses of vaccine.  Vaccines for these sites mean that the Department of Health will have to allocate them away from other community providers like hospitals and pharmacies and our most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, like those in long-term care facilities and congregate care settings.  

The Administration is looking at ways to incorporate the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the National Guard, and other county and community partners into our vaccination strategy in the near future because we know they have valuable skill sets and abilities to contribute.  However, that needs to be done in a way that takes into account other needs."

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