Teachers vaccine

Aileen Kemmerly, English language development teacher at Park and Taylor Elementary Schools in Columbia, talks after receiving her COVID-19 vaccine at Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, 1020 New Holland Ave., in Lancaster city Thursday, March 11, 2021.

About 7,400 educators from Lancaster and Lebanon counties rolled up their sleeves for the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine as part of Pennsylvania’s initiative to vaccinate the state’s roughly 200,000 school employees against COVID-19.

That’s according to the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, one of 29 intermediate units that, with help from the Pennsylvania National Guard and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, served as a host site beginning in mid-March as teachers, support staff, bus drivers and more flocked to get their vaccine.

Statewide, more than 112,000 educators were vaccinated in about three weeks.

“While the timing was short, IU staff responded as they always do, with a willingness and heart to serve our communities,” IU13 executive director Brian Barnhart said Monday. “Public and private school patients were both understanding and kind as the process was quite fluid and subject to quick change.”

Vaccine eligibility has been a long time coming for educators who felt they should’ve been prioritized from the start as schools — including most Lancaster County schools — returned to fully in-person instruction this school year. For many, it’s a sign of good things to come.

“Hopefully we will soon see all schools returning to some ‘normalcy’ sooner because of these efforts,” Barnhart said. “The return to school is essential to the overall economic recovery in Pennsylvania.”

In a press conference last week, Gov. Tom Wolf and Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, celebrated the conclusion of the educator vaccine initiative, which finished ahead of schedule.

“Today is a turning point in the lives of our schools and our students here in Pennsylvania, and PSEA’s members are so excited about what lies ahead,” Askey said. “Some schools are reopening their doors after many months of remote instruction, while many more are expanding their schedules to bring students back into the classroom more days of the week.”

All Lancaster County public schools are offering in-person instruction in at least a part-time capacity, in addition to virtual or blended learning options.

Pennsylvania has eased education-related restrictions in recent weeks, from changing social distancing guidelines from 6 feet to 3 feet, and on Monday adjusting their recommended instructional models to encourage more in-person learning.

The 7,400 Lancaster and Lebanon county school personnel who were vaccinated represent more than half of those who were eligible under the state’s educator vaccine initiative. The state indicated that nearly 12,500 educators in Lancaster and Lebanon counties were eligible for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Barnhart said.

That 7,400 doesn’t include the number of school employees who have received a vaccine due to being eligible under one of the state’s earlier phases.

A Lancaster County breakdown of vaccine data was not available from the IU13. Pennsylvania Department of Education did not immediately return a request for county- and school-specific numbers.

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