Pennsylvania residents who are currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine will get their appointments scheduled by the end of March, Gov. Tom Wolf and members of the state’ COVID-19 task force said Friday, as they also announced targeted initiatives to vaccinate such front-line workers as police officers and firefighters, as well as grocery store workers and food processing workers.
“Our 1A population contains some of the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians, and it is crucial that these individuals get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Wolf said in a statement. “The Secretary of Health will also be issuing an order that will require vaccine providers to make best efforts to schedule all 1A appointments by the end of the month. To assist them in achieving this goal, we will be providing greater visibility into their future allocations. This will allow them to schedule appointments with confidence in having sufficient supply to keep those appointments.”
The announcement came the day after President Joe Biden announced an aggressive effort to make every adult American eligible for the vaccine by May 1.
“President Biden laid out a really bold plan or the country. We are making all kinds of efforts and taking aggressive steps to meet that timeline,” Wolf said. “And I am confident we can do that. We’ve already made a lot of progress … and headway in getting more people vaccinated.”
So far, nearly 1 million state residents aged 65 and older have received a first dose of the vaccine, with 72,000 eligible residents receiving a vaccination every day. Nonetheless, state officials have struggled to meet demand for the vaccine and to get shots into arms.
The special initiative to reach such priority populations as food processing workers and police officers was a product of the bipartisan task force, made up of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers who have been working alongside the administration.
State Sen. Art Haywood, a Philadelphia Democrat who sits on the task force, said the effort to reach grocery store workers and food processing workers is particularly important because many of those frontline employees are Black and Brown, and a part of a population that is hesitant to get vaccinated.
“All the vaccines are safe. And will prevent hospitalizations and death. I know the anxiety is high,” Haywood, who is Black, said.
On Thursday, the Biden administration announced that it had launched federally run vaccination sites across the country, and will more than double the number of federal mass vaccination centers. More than 4,000 active duty troops will deploy to support those vaccination efforts.
The White House also will expand who is qualified to administer shots, adding dentists, advanced and intermediate emergency medical technicians, midwives, optometrists, paramedics, physician assistants, podiatrists, respiratory therapists, and veterinarians.
At the state level, Wolf said Friday that hospitals and health systems now have enough vaccine to partner with counties, to open mass vaccination sites such as one that opened in Lancaster County this week.
That clinic, housed in a former Bon-Ton department store in Lancaster’s Park City Center shopping mall, distributed 500 doses on its opening day on Wednesday, the Capital-Star previously reported. It is expected to vaccinate up to 6,000 people per day when vaccine supply meets demand.
“These regional clinics are critical to getting the vaccine out,” Haywood, the task force member, said.
Meanwhile, 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, the Capital-Star reported.
Capital-Star Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison and Correspondent Lauren Manelius contributed to this story.