HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA/AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf has formally announced at a news conference Wednesday morning that teachers will be moving up on the state’s priority list to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We have all decided to recommend that this Johnson & Johnson stream go to our teachers, school employees. Public and private,” Gov. Wolf said.READ MORE: Rep. O'Neal: Teachers To Move Into Phase 1A Of Vaccine Rollout In Order To Speed Up Return To Classroom
Educators will now be moved into the Phase 1A tier of the vaccine rollout. The aim is to get students back to in-person learning across the state as soon as possible.
Wolf’s office says giving the vaccine to teachers and other school staff will “help protect school communities and get more students back into classrooms.”
So far, the state’s Phase 1A tier has included vaccines for health care workers, people age 65 and over and younger people with high-risk medical conditions.
Wolf’s office says teachers will now get priority access to the state’s first shipment of 94,000 doses of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. They say the hope is “to offer it to public and private school workers, early childhood education workers, and child care workers.”
The Food and Drug Administration just approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use last weekend.
According to the Wolf administration, there will be a process to getting educators vaccinated.
In a news release, they say, “The initial priority is vaccinating school staff that have regular and sustained in-person contact with students during the regular school day, including teachers and staff providing pre-k and elementary instruction, special education, English learners and associated support because younger children are more susceptible to learning loss and their families are more likely to have childcare challenges.”
Gov. Wolf says the state Education and Health Departments are working with PEMA (Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency), the National Guard, AMI Expeditionary Healthcare and 28 local Intermediate Units to get vaccine clinics set up for teachers.
The state says each IU region will have at least one vaccination location, and most locations would begin vaccinations between March 10 and 13. According to Wolf, the hope is to have all state educators at various levels vaccinated by this time next month.
“Teachers are starting to, as we speak, get emails from superintendents asking, ‘do they want a vaccine or do you not want a vaccine?'” said PA State Education Association president Rich Askey.
Askey says educators won’t be mandated to get the vaccination but they are encouraged.
He says it’s a step in the right direction and will benefit more than just the teachers and students. As Askey put it, “It’s a key step in assuring that more students are back in the classroom, more parents are back to work without worrying about their children at home and getting our economy back on track.”
The plan also includes school bus drivers.READ MORE: COVID-19 In Pennsylvania: CVS Now Lists Teachers As Eligible For Vaccination
WATCH: KDKA’s Andy Sheehan reports
The drivers had raised concerns about being in tight, confined quarters with the students, taking them to and from school.
But the president of the Pennsylvania School Bus Association said the vaccine will go a long way to lifting those fears. And she says the divers are an absolutely essential part of the educational system.
“We’re really thankful to Governor Wolf for including school bus drivers in this plan for the distribution of the COVID vaccination,” said Denille Girardat Myers. “School bus drivers are an integral part of the education system. We can be that first smile a child sees in the morning and the last goodbye they get at night. And our school bus drivers do ensure that our children get to and from school safely and by keeping the driver safe, we can help ensure we are able to continue doing our jobs.”
Myers was unclear on some of the finer details as to where and when the drivers will be vaccinated but said this should be completed by the end of next week.
State Rep. Timothy O’Neal, of Washington County and a member of Pennsylvania’s Coronavirus Taskforce, wrote in an email to colleagues earlier this week that the governor’s announcement was on the way.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers President Nina Esposito-Visgitis both released statements saying they praise the state’s decision.
Peduto said, “Governor Wolf’s wise decision to immediately vaccinate teachers will speed up the return of students to school, provide students the in-person attention they need after a full year away, and give teachers confidence that they can return to classrooms safely. The City of Pittsburgh stands ready to help the Commonwealth with this effort in any way it can.”
Esposito-Visgitis said, “On behalf of the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers, I would like to thank Governor Wolf for prioritizing vaccinations for teachers and school staff in Pittsburgh and across the state. The additional layer of protection that full vaccination will provide will make a meaningful and measurable difference in the lives of our educators, school staff, students and school communities.”
In addition, CVS began listing teachers as eligible for vaccination overnight.
In the Pittsburgh area, the New Kensington area CVS is offering the vaccine, but as of Wednesday morning, they were fully-booked.
The Governor’s Office says moving teachers up will not impact the rest of Phase 1A.
“We will continue to work through Phase 1A as planned,” Wolf’s office said in a tweet. “This has been a long a difficult process for everyone, but we are hopeful this a glimpse into a brighter future.”
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