A new vaccine site specifically for teachers and educational support staff will be set up in Montgomery County next week where they will be receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.
Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that because of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has been allocated by the state, Pennsylvania teachers and support staff are now eligible to be vaccinated with the one-dose vaccine.
“The way this program will run is that it will be set up at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit for MontCo schools,” said County Commissioner Dr. Valeria Arkoosh. “The Pennsylvania National Guard, as well as a staffing agency, will be providing the individuals to run the site. It’s terrific news for our schools. We all know how challenging the school situation has been.”
Arkoosh emphasized the new eligibility for teachers should not conflict with those who are eligible under Phase 1A for vaccination because it is a different site and vaccine specifically for educators.
“In fact, the good news is this is additional doses of vaccine into our county,” Arkoosh said. “The county has already been vaccinating teachers and education support personnel that were in the 1A category because of their age or because of an underlying condition. It’s good news all around.”
The commissioner has stressed multiple times over the past few months that the county is ready to administer vaccines to all residents who want them; they just need more vaccines. This is a step toward providing those vaccinations.
“In terms of our overall outlook, we still hope we will get more vaccines soon so that we can get these additional mass vaccination sites open,” Arkoosh said. “People are just clambering to be vaccinated and we want to vaccinate them. We are ready. We just need more vaccines.”
The county is hoping to open a third mass vaccination site by Willow Grove Mall in the next week, but they won’t know the exact timing of the opening until additional vaccines arrive.
However, since the county is now being provided Jonhson & Johnson vaccines, which is a one-dose vaccine, the commissioner has asked the state that some of the vaccines be used for special populations like homebound individuals.
“We do have a number of individuals in the county who are truly home-bound,” Arkoosh said. “There is really no way for them to get to one of these mass vaccination sites. It would be so much more efficient if we could take a single dose vaccine to their home rather than making two trips. I’m hopeful there might be some doses available to us for that purpose.”
As for the new eligibility for teachers to get the J&J vaccine, Akroosh said this changes nothing in terms of guidelines and mitigation measures schools in the county will be following to be COVID safe.
“We will do what we’ve been doing since the beginning of the pandemic, which is following the guidance of the Pennsylvania Department of Health and the Pennsylvania Department of Education,” Arkoosh said. “So, if those entities decided to change the guidance then we will change with them. I’m not aware of any plans to change that guidance but if they do then we will certainly do the same.”
Arkoosh was very disappointed when the eligibility changed in Pennsylvania to those 65 and older and pushed aside educators and essential workers. She thinks this is a good chance for educators and support staff to be able to return to schools and allow kids who need to be taught in person to return to something normal.
“The teachers in particular are so critical for so many parents to be able to get back to work and they need to be able to get their kids back in school,” Arkoosh said. “It’s so exciting to hope that they will be able to soon get most, if not all, of our youngest students back into classrooms and do it in a way that’s safe and teachers and support staff are safe, and we can kind of get back to something a little closer to normal. I couldn’t be happier about this.”