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Should teachers have to wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine?

Pittsburgh's Mayor wrote the Governor asking for teachers to get the vaccine 'immediately,' but it's unclear how immediate that will be

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — New calls are coming from leaders in Pennsylvania to vaccinate teachers 'immediately' as educators remain in Phase 1b of the rollout plan and the state has not yet finished Phase 1a.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted this week that he wrote Governor Tom Wolf ask him to put teachers next in line for vaccine shots, offering to provide locations and staffing to implement the plan immediately at no cost to the state. 

Philadelphia which is implementing its own individualized vaccination rollout plan separate from the state is also making steps to vaccinate teachers as The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia struck an agreement with the city health department to take the lead on getting shots to school staff. That plan could begin by the end of the month. 

However, vaccination doses are still not keeping up with the demand for shots in the state and at this time Pennsylvania remains committed to finishing Phase 1a which includes health care workers and those at high risk.

Pennsylvania's Department of Health wrote FOX43 in part:

"Teachers and all of the people in phase 1B play a vital role in our community and we do not want to diminish that in any way. However, our vaccine plans are designed to ensure that vaccinations happen in an ethical, equitable and efficient way.  We would encourage Mayor Peduto to direct his advocacy on this issue to the federal government if he believes the phased rollout should be changed. The Department of Health is following the CDC’s recommendations, which have been established to get vaccine out as efficiently as possible in a way prioritizing health care workers and people most vulnerable to serious illness," said Maggi Barton, Deputy Press Secretary. 

PSEA

Chris Lilienthal of the PA State Education Association said "the PSEA strongly believes that educators and support staff in our schools who want to get the COVID-19 vaccine should get access to it as soon as possible."

Lilienthal said the PSEA is advocating on behalf of educators to state leaders and is willing to help in efforts to make vaccinations available for teachers in any way they can. However he said, "the challenge of course is that there's a limited supply of vaccine right now."

Lilienthal said they are encouraging districts to begin preparations for Phase 1b by having discussions right now within districts over how they plan to vaccinate staff and supporting staff workers.

How are schools preparing?

Several districts have already started to prepare for vaccination clinics for their staff and contract workers such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. 

East Pennsboro Area School District is among the districts that have begun preparing for the state to enter Phase 1b.

District leaders said it teamed up with a vaccine provider to schedule clinics for its staff guessing dates that they hoped Pennsylvania would be out of Phase 1b. 

"We had February 19 and March 19 scheduled. And, we just learned at the beginning of this week that there's no way that's going to happen," said Dr. Troy Price, Assistant Superintendent. Price said the district was told the vaccination doses were not available and because the state had not yet completed Phase 1a the clinic would have to be canceled. 

Price and Superintendent Dr. Donna Dunar said whenever they are told the clinics can proceed they will move ahead with the plans to vaccinate immediately. 

Dunar said the district surveyed its staff about their interest to receive the vaccine with nearly 70% expressing an interest to get it and 30% still unsure. 

"We are very anxious to get our students back in school in person moreso," said Dr. Dunar as she noted the district is currently operating under a hybrid model later adding "it's not good academically or socially or emotionally so we are very anxious to get our kids back in school." 

Dr. Dunar said the district has not been given a timeline on when the state may enter Phase 1b or when it may be able to hold its clinic for staff as it still doesn't have the 'promise' of the vaccine.

"We are in limbo with this right now. If we get the word tomorrow that it is available we will have the layout, the time, and the setup," she said. 

Dr. Dunar said the district is now preparing to bring students back to the classroom following new guidance from the Biden administration.

"Our priority is to get kids back in school. So, we are actively looking and planning to bring students back shortly and those plans are in the works right now," she said.

Listen as East Pennsboro describes in detail the preparations they are still attempting to make for a COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

FULL STATEMENT FROM THE PA DEPT OF HEALTH

Teachers and all of the people in phase 1B play a vital role in our community and we do not want to diminish that in any way. However, our vaccine plans are designed to ensure that vaccinations happen in an ethical, equitable and efficient way.  We would encourage Mayor Peduto to direct his advocacy on this issue to the federal government if he believes the phased rollout should be changed.

The Department of Health is following the CDC’s recommendations, which have been established to get vaccine out as efficiently as possible in a way prioritizing health care workers and people most vulnerable to serious illness.

Right now, we have limited vaccine from the federal government and must remain laser focused on getting those who are taking case of us and those who are most vulnerable that represent phase 1A vaccinated. There are more than 4 million people eligible in phase 1A. It will take at least 8 million doses to fully vaccinate all of them. Through the end of this week, Pennsylvania will have received only 2.4 million doses. 

Therefore, there is simply not enough vaccine available from the federal government at this time. We know that supply will catch up to demand in the future and everyone who wants it will be able to get vaccinated when there is more vaccine available.

Maggi Barton | Deputy Press Secretary

Department of Health | Office of Communications