HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — Pennsylvania state Rep. Timothy O’Neal says teachers could soon be moving to the front of the line to get the coronavirus vaccine.
In an email announcement to colleagues, Rep. O’Neal said that teachers will be moved into the Phase 1A tier of the vaccine rollout.
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BREAKING: Rep. Tim O'Neal says teachers will have priority on PA initial shipment of 94K J&J vaccine doses. Teachers must gaurentee return to class to get one-shot dose. @KDKA
— Andy Sheehan (@AndySheehankdka) March 1, 2021
Rep. O’Neal, of Washington County, is a member of Pennsylvania’s Coronavirus Taskforce.
According to Rep. O’Neal, teachers will get priority access to the state’s initial shipment of 94,000 doses of the newly-approved, one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Rep. O’Neal says teachers must guarantee that they will return to the classroom after getting it.
O’Neal says Gov. Tom Wolf will soon announce clinics, run by PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency) and the National Guard, to get teachers vaccinated.
Teachers from Pre-K to 12th grade and in both public and private schools would qualify.
The action is in hopes of speeding up the process of getting all teachers and students across the state back to in-person learning.
The Governor’s Office won’t confirm the plan, saying it remains under discussion, but sources indicate Wolf will likely announce some version of it on Wednesday and it has broad bipartisan support.
State Senator Camera Bartolotta says teachers would not cut any lines since others in 1A are already queuing up for the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, and it would get schools rolling again.
“It doesn’t put anyone ahead in line from the others who have been waiting. It gets our teachers back in the classroom as they feel comfortable that now they’re protected, gets the students back in the classroom, in-person learning. It gets the parents back to work,” she said.
The plan is for the National Guard and PEMA to hold these mass clinics for teachers starting this week and have 150,000 teachers vaccinated by the end of next week. It’s speedy and ambitious and we’ll certainly tell you if it does come to pass.
It’s a light on the horizon for teachers seeking a dose of the vaccine.
WATCH: KDKA’s Meghan Schiller reports
“Teachers just want to keep themselves safe and their families safe and also not to spread [the virus]. If we were to get sick, we don’t want to give it to our students and their families,” said Brooke Hampsay, a teacher at West Jefferson Hills School District.
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller talked to teachers who said “excited” is an understatement.
“We are very excited. A lot of us have been waiting a very long time for this moment,” said Hampsay.
She’s a first-grade teacher at West Jefferson Hills School District but said the desire for the vaccine knows no district lines.
“I actually a lot of text messages from friends who are teachers in other districts. It’s been a big day for the teachers, so we just feel it’ll really help the community,” said Hampsay.
Teacher Megan Froehlich agrees.
“Teachers want to feel safe, and they want to be around their students, and we’re meant to be close to our students,” said Froelich.
Froelich teaches at the North Allegheny Cyber Academy and longs for the day she can make music with her students in person.
“All school districts and North Allegheny Cyber Academy have done a wonderful job of providing learning opportunities for the challenge of this school year, but I just think it would make everybody feel safer, get back in the schools, and feel safer,” said Froehlich.
From the classroom to the administration side, Superintendent Dr. James Konrad said this news slightly eases the burden on his shoulders.
“I think overwhelmingly, our district staff are excited for this possibility,” said Dr. Konrad.
The Washington School District superintendent and his district’s pandemic team worked to secure vaccines for 92 staff members who already fall into Phase 1A but couldn’t yet find available doses for the nearly 160 remaining staff members.
“There’s some silver lining with the potential to receive the vaccine sooner rather than later and that’s great for our staff,” said Dr. Konrad.
KDKA’s Meghan Schiller reached out to the PA State Education Association and President Rich Askey issued the following statement:
“For weeks now, PSEA has been calling on state policymakers to prioritize access to the COVID-19 vaccine for educators, support staff, and other school employees. We are encouraged by recent news reports suggesting that a plan is in the works to accomplish this goal. Such a plan would be extraordinarily good news for the health and safety of everyone in our schools.
“The men and women who teach and serve our students have gone above and beyond for their students in a time of unprecedented challenge. Our schools are essential and vaccinating the dedicated people who make them work is critical to keeping everyone in them safe and healthy.”