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Vaccines for school workers on horizon

First clinics expected to begin vaccinations by Wednesday

The first clinics to vaccinate school employees with the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could start the middle of next week.

The first clinics are expected to run Wednesday to March 13.

There is likely to be a lapse in supply for the following two weeks, then an upsurge in the final week of the month that could provide all the remaining doses needed for the state to vaccinate its approximately 200,000 school-connected personnel, said Acting Health Secretary Alison Beam.

Intermediate units will be a link between schools and the state, while helping determine the locations of clinics — many of which will take place at IU facilities.

IU-8 Executive Director Tom Butler was waiting late Thursday afternoon for a call from state officials to discuss vaccination sites in his territory.

He had proposed three — one each in Altoona, Richland and Somerset — but thought he might need to settle for two.

It’s no surprise that with “something at this scale happening this quick, we’re not getting the answers as quickly as we want,” Butler said.

The effort has “a lot of moving parts,” Butler said.

“Nothing in this last 12 months has brought us closer together to work out problems,” Butler said of his organization’s interactions with school administrators in Blair, Cambria, Bedford and Somerset counties. “So I have no concerns that we won’t get it figured out.”

The state initially indicated that all the clinics could take place at IU buildings, but the size of some IU territories make that impractical, Butler said.

IU-8’s territory is the second biggest in the state, and it seemed counterproductive to force people from southern Somerset County to drive all the way to Altoona, he said.

Some IUs with large areas will be providing mobile clinics, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield said.

To determine who will get shots, all teachers, other staffers and contractors associated with all the schools will fill out survey forms. The information will be “dumped into a database,” enabling schools to compile a list of people eligible to be vaccinated, Butler said.

The schools will pass that list to the IUs, which will turn it over to AMI Expeditionary Healthcare.

The state will allocate the vaccines based on each IU’s share of eligible recipients, according to a news release.

For the first batch of the J&J vaccines, the state is prioritizing teachers and other staffers, including bus drivers and custodians, who serve preschool and elementary students, special education students and English learners in both public and private schools.

School personnel will make appointments with an online tool to help “regulate the flow,” Padfield said.

The National Guard and AMI will administer shots at clinic sites.

The clinics are not open to the general public, he said.

Most clinic sites will administer 500 shots a day, with the larger ones dispensing as many as 1,000 doses daily, Padfield said.

The state is receiving an initial allocation of 94,000 doses this week.

The J&J vaccine requires only one dose and can be stored for three months under ordinary refrigeration, which makes it easier to handle than the Pfizer vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Moderna vaccine, which needs to be stored at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

All three vaccines are highly effective against serious COVID-19 illness, Beam said.

Vaccinations for child care workers are being handled through retail pharmacy program partners Rite Aid, Topco and Walmart, which are getting a separate allocation of the J&J vaccine from the federal government, Beam said.

The Department of Health will provide those pharmacies with contact information from its listing of the child care providers it licenses.

The pharmacies will reach out to those providers so the workers can schedule vaccination appointments.

On the recommendation of a new bipartisan vaccine Task Force, the administration is dedicating its initial shipments of J&J vaccines to school personnel so that schools can reopen safely — and so vaccinations with Pfizer and Moderna can continue unabated for the many people in Phase 1a who still need shots, Beam said.

The administration is “trying hard not to exacerbate the frustration” of the many 1a-eligible people who remain unvaccinated due to a shortage of doses, Beam said.

The state is not mandating school personnel — or any group — to get vaccinated, Beam said.

Despite continued vaccination progress, and despite the administration’s ratcheting back of some restrictions this week, people need to continue to mask, keep social distance and wash hands, Beam said.

“Mask-wearing (remains) abundantly important,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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