State Rep. Pam Snyder is applauding the state Department of Health’s purported decision to include teachers in the “Phase 1A” vaccine grouping, although Gov. Tom Wolf is not expected to make a formal announcement until today.
“This is certainly good news for our teachers and school staff, many of whom have had to be working in classrooms for some time and in close proximity to our young people and other staffers,” Snyder said of leaked emails that seemed to indicate the state was planning to elevate educators into the top priority grouping.
Snyder, D-Jefferson, alluded to a Feb. 24 letter she and fellow Democratic state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro of Erie sent to Acting Health Secretary Allison Beam asking for other frontline workers to be included in the 1A grouping, such as educators and corrections officers. Snyder said she was disappointed the latter apparently will not be included in the updated priority listing.
“While this is certainly a step in the right direction, it’s imperative we not only vaccinate these and other high-risk populations across our great state and keep health systems alert on any updates or changes to the ongoing vaccine rollout,” Snyder said.
Wolf had no comment on the subject during a Tuesday press conference, but said he expected to have more details during an announcement today.
Dr. James Konrad, superintendent of the Washington School District, said the news is positive for the educational community throughout the commonwealth.
“Our district is thrilled to hear that teachers will soon receive their COVID-19 vaccination. This helps to protect our hard-working teachers and staff and keeps them safe while educating students in school,” said Konrad.
While teachers who did not fall into the 1A category waited for their turn at the vaccine, the school district, led by district nurses Cheryl Blosl and Ashley Brand, worked with a local pharmacy to coordinate more than 90 vaccinations for the staff with the highest health needs in group 1A.
In the Jefferson-Morgan School District, where students have returned to on-campus learning four days a week, Superintendent Joseph Orr said the decision is welcome news.
“If they’re moving the teachers to 1A, it’s a great thing. If it basically gets us back to full time, that’s wonderful news because that’s what we all want,” said Orr.
Muriel Nuttall, executive director of Fayette County Chamber of Commerce and a member of the county’s task force that is coordinating the COVID-19 vaccination process, was cautiously optimistic about Wolf’s proposed changes.
“We’re encouraged. We’re excited to hear what he has to say to make this happen,” Nuttall said. “The task force has always been supportive of getting our teachers vaccinated, along with all of our frontline workers. ... We’re anxious to get our kids back in school and get back to a sense of normalcy.”
The task force has always made it a priority for teachers and educators to get vaccinated when the doses become available, which has been problematic as the demand for the vaccine has outweighed the supply.
“If the state gets us vaccine, we’ll put them in arms quickly,” she said. “They have to get the supplies moving effectively.”
Education groups have argued that vaccinating teachers is a critical step toward getting students back in the classroom.
In mid-February, a coalition of education groups, including superintendents, school boards and teachers unions, asked Wolf to prioritize school staff for the COVID-19 vaccine, calling it an “absolutely essential” step toward reopening schools and keeping them open.
State Health Department officials on Tuesday said Pennsylvania received more than 500,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses this week. And with the introduction of the new single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine that began rolling out to states this week, Nuttall is hoping the region receives more doses.
“It seems to be imbalanced. Some areas get it and some areas don’t get it. I don’t understand. None of us do. It doesn’t seem to be a transparent process,” she said. “People are desperate for this vaccine and we’re ready to give it to them.”