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Teachers, staff in commonwealth prioritized to receive Johnson & Johnson vaccine

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This Dec. 2, 2020 photo provided by Johnson & Johnson shows vials of the COVID-19 vaccine in the United States. The nation is poised to get a third vaccine against COVID-19, but health officials are concerned that at first glance the Johnson & Johnson shot may not be seen as equal to other options from Pfizer and Moderna. (Johnson & Johnson via AP)

HARRISBURG, DAUPHIN COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, along with the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force, held a virtual press briefing on a new teacher vaccination initiative.

Governor Wolf announced that, in coordination with the state Department of Health and state Department of Education, private and public education staff will be prioritized to receive the new federally authorized Johnson & Johnson vaccines that are allocated for emergency use.

The state is expected to receive 94,000 doses directly, and through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership, another 30,000 doses will be allocated to pharmacies across the commonwealth, Wolf said.

Educators will now be included in phase 1A in the state’s vaccine allocation rollout. This includes educators and school employees including teachers, bus drivers, janitors, cafeteria staff and management.

Wolf said this allocation decision, as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-dose shot, is to get children back in the classroom as quickly and safely as possible and the single-dose is an advantage to get this done more quickly.

“We want to keep staff and students safer in schools and get students back in classroom, by doing it this way than any other way we can conceive,” Wolf said.

The departments of health and education want to prioritize the youngest learners, as Wolf said they benefit the most from in-person learning. Pre-K and elementary staff, and those who work with students with disabilities, will be the first to receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Working through Federal Retail Pharmacy Partnership, future allocations will focus on staff working with older students and continue to be allocated to teachers and school employees until every educator has the opportunity to get vaccinationed.

Governor Wolf said vaccine rollout for others in phase 1A will go unaffected, and that rollout of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines will see quicker allocations as the state is expected to receive many more doses this week.

While in-person learning is important for students, Wolf stressed the other key services schools provide outside of the classroom that have been missed out on during virtual learning such as behavioral support and nuritional meals.

“We need to make sure when students and teachers return, they are safe and can focus on learning and growing rather than worrying about safety,” Wolf said.

The departments of health and education also updated recommendations to schools for offering instruction based on the level of community transmission in a county.

Full in-person learning is recommended in low level counties, hybrid/blended learning is recommended in moderate counties and hybrid/blended learning is recommended for elementary grades and full remote learning for middle and high schools in substantial counties.

Per CDC guidance, vaccinations are not required for schools to safely resume in-person instruction.

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