Lancaster County educators were thrilled to get vaccinated once Pennsylvania prioritized the first Johnson & Johnson vaccine shipments for school personnel.
Even with the news that the Johnson & Johnson shot may be linked to rare blood clots, prompting state officials to pause administering doses in accordance with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration, that hasn’t changed.
“In the millions of doses, there have only been a handful of adverse reactions, so the vaccine is still very safe,” Conestoga Valley High School biology teacher and Conestoga Valley Education Association President Tara Flick said.
Flick and others who spoke to LNP | LancasterOnline Tuesday said because the incident of blood clots was so rare — six out of 6.8 million in the United States, according to federal health officials — they're still glad they got the shot. The benefits, they said, still seem to outweigh the risks.
“My advice to anyone who got the J&J shot is to remember that they are effectively preventing severe illness and their own death due to COVID,” Flick said. “All vaccines and medications have rare side effects so people should be aware of the problem, but it should not stop them from getting the vaccine.”
About 7,400 school employees — from teachers and administrators to bus drivers and janitors — from Lancaster and Lebanon counties received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Lancaster-Lebanon Intermediate Unit 13, which served as the vaccination host site for beginning in mid-March. Statewide, more than 112,000 educators got the shot.
Upon the state’s first allocation of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine March 1, Pennsylvania launched an initiative to use the J&J shot to inoculate teachers and staff at the kindergarten through 12th-grade level. Educators serving younger students and students with special needs were prioritized first. Then educators serving older students became eligible. The process took about three weeks.
The vaccinations were, and still are, a sign of good things to come for many.
That’s the case for Samantha McNally, a Manheim Township Middle School social studies teacher and the president of the Manheim Township Education Association, who said she doesn’t have major concerns as federal health officials seem to just be taking proactive measures.
“Overall, we are pleased that so many educators have been able to obtain a vaccination either through the J&J initiative or the federal pharmacy program, which is one step towards safer working conditions for our members and more normalcy in our classrooms,” she said.
Jason Molloy, a wellness instructor at Price Elementary School and president of the Lancaster Education Association, said most teachers jumped on the opportunity to get the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. He said the city's teachers “are just happy to be able to know that the state granted us the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
Neither Flick, McNally nor Molloy said they were aware of any adverse reactions to the shot.
The six blood clot cases occurred in women between 18 and 48 years old, according to state and federal health officials. Acting Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Alison Beam on Tuesday said Pennsylvania should have “confidence in the safety and effectiveness of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, and individuals should proceed with getting vaccinated as soon as possible to fight the virus, particularly as our case counts rise.”
For local school leaders, the job is now to make sure their employees know the facts. As Pequea Valley School District Superintendent Erik Orndorff said, “rumors start flying and, all of a sudden, it starts getting bigger than it is.” Orndorff said he sent an email to district teachers and staff who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine notifying them of the announcement.
Both Orndorff and Penn Manor School District Superintendent Mike Leichliter said there were no reported instances of serious side effects from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Leichliter, though, said he appreciated state and federal health officials’ cautiousness.
Shannan Guthrie, the spokeswoman Lancaster-Lebanon IU13, said Tuesday evening that the center had not received any calls from concerned school employees who got the Johnson & Johnson shot.