Op-Ed: Vaccination Plan to Get Students Back to School, Parents Back to Work, Economy Back on Track

About a month ago, I was chosen to be one of four members of the General Assembly to serve on a COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force established by Governor Wolf. The stated purpose of the Task Force is to share information and feedback and to efficiently communicate time-sensitive news related to the vaccine rollout back to our respective caucuses in the General Assembly.

From the outset of this pandemic, I have been calling on the Wolf Administration to collaborate in a bipartisan manner and more effectively share critical information with members of the Legislature, so I was pleased to learn that the Administration took steps to improve bipartisan collaboration and communication through the Joint Task Force.

Immediately following my appointment to the Task Force, we began work to develop a strategic plan, seeking to improve the efficiency of the provider network, bringing a greater degree of transparency and accountability to the vaccine rollout, boosting communications, updating the statewide distribution formula, and establishing metrics to align data with the strategic plan objectives. In its first week in existence, the Task Force also worked through challenges with second dose security for the Moderna vaccine that was the result of flawed communications between the Department of Health and providers, and then further exacerbated by weather-disrupted supply networks. 

The early work of the Task Force, while challenging, has been rewarding. The Governor and Secretary of Health have used the Task Force not only as a platform to receive feedback, but as a decision-making body as well. I believe we are turning a page here in Pennsylvania as we look forward to a vaccine supply that is increasing and will continue to increase; this, coupled with the steps we are taking to dramatically improve the efficiency and the effectiveness of vaccination distribution process is expected to yield tangible results for Pennsylvanians seeking the vaccine. 

Last week, the Task Force took a major step forward in the effort to combat COVID-19 by announcing a plan to continue prioritizing Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for seniors / others in Phase 1A, while simultaneously creating a separate program to quickly administer Pennsylvania’s first batch of 94,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines to our teachers.  This dual track plan gives us a unique opportunity to get children back into the classroom, get parents back to work, help Pennsylvania families, and further position our economy for recovery and growth.

The benefits of this plan will be seen in every single Pennsylvania community, because for every teacher who receives a vaccine, a multiplier effect will be felt by students, their families, and their families’ employers as we rapidly move toward herd immunity, reopening our economy, and a sense of normalcy again.

In conjunction with this separate program for teachers, the Task Force is also addressing the challenges our seniors have experienced with obtaining the vaccine. By pushing the anticipated increased supply of Moderna and Pfizer vaccines through our improved distribution formula that accounts for a county’s overall population, population over 65, infection rate, and COVID death rate, we hope to dramatically improve the vaccination rate of Pennsylvanians in Phase 1A, including seniors.  While we believe this new formula will have a significant impact, the Task Force is committed to continuing our efforts to distribute those doses in a more efficient and effective manner.

In closing, the opportunity the COVID-19 Vaccine Joint Task Force has created to offer feedback, shape policy, and make decisions in real time has thus far exceeded my expectations.  I have no doubt that the improvements we’ve been able to make is surely the direct result of the collaborative and bipartisan nature of the Task Force. Much work remains, but we are turning the corner and dramatically improving the process to ensure any Pennsylvanian who wishes to be vaccinated has access to vaccine.

A large part of my role on this Task Force is to carry the voices of my constituents directly to the Governor and the Secretary of Health to effectuate change and improve the vaccination experience for all Pennsylvanians. I want to encourage my constituents to continue to share their feedback with me – any concerns, barriers, successes, frustrations, and – most importantly – ideas for improving Pennsylvania’s vaccination process. An ongoing, productive dialogue will be absolutely critical as we seek to quickly provide a vaccine to all who want one, reopen our economy, and return to regular life. I look forward to reviewing your feedback: https://www.senatoraument.com/voice-your-concerns

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