State on track to vaccinate school employees by end of March, officials say

    Image via WikiMedia Commons)

    Pennsylvania’s plan to vaccinate up to 200,000 school employees is on track to wrap up by the end of the month, as long as the state receives its anticipated allocations of Johnson & Johnson vaccines from the federal government, state officials said Friday. 

    The announcement from Acting Education Secretary Noe Ortega came one year after Gov. Tom Wolf issued a historic order that shuttered schools statewide. The state unveiled plans earlier this month to offer one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines to all school employees by the end of March so educators and students could return to classrooms. 

    Randy Padfield, the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Agency, said 6,500 school employees have received vaccines at mass vaccination clinics that became operational this week.

    Twenty clinics are currently running, including 10 that opened for the first time on Friday, Padfield said. Eight more clinics will open over the weekend.

    The busiest clinics in the state will administer up to 1,000 doses a day. Some offer mobile vaccination sites. Padfield said that each operation that started running this week has been meetings its daily vaccination goals.   

    “They’re achieving their targets, and we should be able to complete our end goal” of completing most clinics in the next two weeks, Padfield said. 

    Wolf has made it clear that the targeted vaccine campaign is to get children back into classrooms. But Ortega said Friday that it will still be up to school districts to open their doors to students and employees and implement new mitigation efforts to keep them safe. 

    The state has worked with its Intermediate Units – regional educational agencies that offer IT support and other service to schools – to establish clinics statewide. Padfield said that they may keep that infrastructure up and running once it finishes vaccinating school employees. 

    Though the state has set aside its entire Johnson & Johnson supply to vaccinate educators, Padfield said there may be some doses left over by the end of the month.

    State and federal officials have said that the next two months will bring a turning point in the national vaccine effort. President Joe Biden has instructed states to make all adults eligible for vaccines on May 1. 

    In Pennsylvania, state officials have said that their vaccine program has been constrained by a limited supply of doses nationwide. But Padfield said that is expected to change soon, and that the state is working with its vaccine providers to scale up their distribution networks so they’ll be ready to move a larger supply of doses. 

    Biden to states: Make all adults eligible for COVID-19 vaccines by May 1