Pa. National Guard should handle vaccinations, say GOP lawmakers

Lindsey O'Laughlin
York Dispatch

A Republican state lawmaker introduced a bill Thursday that would require the Pennsylvania National Guard to establish and operate a COVID-19 vaccination site in every Pennsylvania county, officials said Thursday.

Rep. Timothy O'Neal, R-Washington, is the primary sponsor of House Bill 326, and Rep. Seth Grove, R-Dover Township, announced on Twitter that he would cosponsor the legislation.

Recent changes to the state Department of Health's guidance about who is eligible to receive the vaccine have led to confusion for the general public and health care providers trying to navigate the vaccine rollout, O'Neal said.

"It’s really a logistical problem to solve," he said. "The military are experts on that, so why not use them?"

The legislation would require the National Guard to have the county-level vaccination sites up and running within 45 days of the bill becoming law. It would also guarantee the National Guard's support for local level health care providers by securing and transporting the vaccine.

Rep. Seth Grove , left, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the General Assembly introduce, Monday, January 13, 2020, a package of bills designed to curb Medicaid fraud. The press conference took place in the Capitol rotunda. Bill Kalina photo

O'Neal said the Pennsylvania National Guard has already begun administering the vaccine to its members, so the process would be familiar to them.

The bill was referred Thursday to the House committee on Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness, he said, and it could be passed out of the House as early as next week.

After that, if the Senate picks up the legislation in its next session, O'Neal said he expects to send it to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk by March 1.

Grove was not available for comment Thursday.

York County's chief health strategist, Dr. Matt Howie, has said the lack of federal coordination to get vaccine doses into the hands of state and local authorities has hampered vaccination efforts.

More:WellSpan expands vaccination sites after EMTs struggled to get shots

About 3.5 million Pennsylvanians are currently eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine under the state's multi-phase approach, but state officials have said the federal government is only sending about 140,000 doses per week.

Eligible recipients under Phase 1A include workers in the health care industry, those who may come into contact with patients at health care facilities, all people ages 65 and older and people ages 16-64 who have high-risk conditions such as cancer, diabetes or obesity.

Both of the vaccines on the market, manufactured by the Moderna and Pfizer pharmaceutical companies, require two doses to be effective.

A health care worker receives the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at the United Memorial Medical Center on December 21, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images/TNS)

The governor has blamed the stunted rollout on lack of supply and poor coordination by former President Donald Trump's administration, The Associated Press reported Wednesday.

But Wolf faced recent criticism from his own party when state Sen. Lindsey Williams, a Democrat from Allegheny County, said Pennsylvania is far behind other states in the vaccination race and needs to improve distribution and communication.

Lyndsay Kensinger, spokesperson for Wolf, said Thursday the governor is reviewing the bill and is "open to considering all options."

As of Thursday, 14,938 people in York County had received one dose of the vaccine, and another 4,115 people had received both doses, according to the state Department of Health.

Statewide, 519,419 people had received one dose of the vaccine, and another 159,199 people had received both doses, the state reported.

More:Wolf pins vaccine shortfalls on supply overpromises

More:York County official: Gov't is undermining vaccine rollout