York County school officials praise Wolf's vaccine rollout for teachers

Erin Bamer
York Dispatch
FILE - In this Dec. 29, 2020, file photo, Penny Cracas, with the Chester County, Pa., Health Department, fills a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine before administering it to emergency medical workers and healthcare personnel at the Chester County Government Services Center in West Chester, Pa. About 1 in 3 Americans say they definitely or probably won’t get the COVID-19 vaccine, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

Officials from several York County school districts spoke in support of Gov. Tom Wolf's announcement that teachers will be among the first to receive incoming doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

Wolf announced at a virtual news conference Wednesday that the state is prioritizing educators to receive the new vaccine. He said he expects 94,000 doses of the vaccine to be delivered to the state in the next week, along with another 30,000 doses delivered through a federal partnership to local pharmacies. 

More:Teachers to get 1-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Wolf says

The Food and Drug Administration authorized the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for emergency use on Feb. 27. Unlike the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is administered in one dose. 

Officials from Southern York County, Dover Area and Northeastern school districts said they were pleased by the announcement. Southern York County is currently working to reopen its K-8 schools, and Superintendent Sandra Lemmon said the vaccine will make work safer for school staff. 

"It came as a wonderful surprise to us," Lemmon said. 

Officials in the state health and education departments recommended Pennsylvania prioritize teachers for the vaccine in order to increase opportunities for in-person instruction, Wolf said. Officials hope to offer the vaccine to special education and early education teachers first, as those students rely on in-person learning most.

Wolf said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will continue being distributed to public and private school employees until all staff have the opportunity to receive it. The vaccine is open to all school staff, not just teachers, and will be administered at intermediate units across Pennsylvania. 

Wolf estimated about 200,000 people qualify for that group. He said he does not know how many in the group have already received a COVID-19 vaccine or will opt not to receive the vaccine. He hopes to have vaccine doses available to all Pennsylvania educators and support staff by the end of March. 

“We want to keep staff and students safer in schools," Wolf said. 

The vaccination sites could begin opening as early as next week, Spotlight PA reported Thursday. There will be 28 local and regional education service agencies, operated through help from the Pennsylvania National Guard. 

More:Vaccination clinics for Pa. teachers could open as soon as next week. Here are the details

Pro-teacher advocacy groups pressured Wolf in February to prioritize teachers for vaccines amid growing pressure to get students back into classrooms. At the time, Wolf did not budge in his vaccine distribution plan. 

Pennsylvania State Education Association President Rich Askey commended Wolf's decision Wednesday in a news release. 

"This is good for everyone, and we thank Gov. Wolf and lawmakers for their leadership and their commitment to getting this done," Askey said in the release. 

More:Advocacy groups pressure Wolf to get teachers vaccinated

More:West York Area High School to reopen four days a week, Dillsburg Elementary temporarily closes

Schools across the country have faced pressure to reopen buildings in recent months. Most York County school districts have school buildings open in some form, and at least six districts have decided to expand their reopening plans in the last month. 

Wolf said it will still be important for schools to maintain safety measures, including wearing face masks, even after the vaccine is available to teachers. 

“Vaccinations are only part of the strategy," Wolf said. 

Rachael Curry is a math teacher at Red Lion Area High School, which has been open for in-person instruction since the beginning of the school year. She said the vaccine will not change much about the logistics of her job. She will still wear a mask and follow other COVID-19 safety precautions. But it will alleviate her stress over working in a potentially unsafe environment. 

"It doesn't change anything, but it changes everything," Curry said. 

Curry said she was excited to hear the announcement. She said she was concerned that getting the vaccine to teachers would be as difficult as the getting the vaccine in Phase 1A, which she described as "a nightmare."

"It's like the Hunger Games," she said. 

Pennsylvania will continue distributing doses of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccine to residents in Phase 1A of the state's vaccine distribution plan, which includes people 65 and older and younger people with serious medical issues. Most educators are in Phase 1B. 

Wolf said he hopes the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with an increased supply of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, will ease the distribution process for Phase 1A.