Thomas Butler

Thomas Butler

Thomas Butler, executive director of Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8, said the region will have three vaccination locations available to serve area educators and others – one in Cambria, Somerset and Blair counties.

“In this statewide vaccination effort, Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8 is honored to serve as a host site for the operations and administration of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines to Blair, Bedford, Cambria and Somerset county school employees and contractors,” he said.

According to Gov. Tom Wolf’s plan, announced Wednesday, 28 intermediate units across the state will be used to establish administration sites for the new single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Pennsylvania will receive 94,600 doses this week – 3,200 for the IU8 area – and begin distribution March 10-13, with priority given to school staff who have “regular and sustained in-person contact with students during the regular school day.”

Those who work with elementary students, learners with disabilities and English learners will be the first teachers to register.

Additionally, employees of both public and non-public education agencies served by the intermediate unit are eligible for the shots.

The state departments of health and education have allocated doses per institution based on an “equitable and prioritized system.”

While the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is a single-shot inoculation, earlier versions from Pfizer and Moderna require two shots. 

National Guard to help 

The Pennsylvania Army National Guard, in conjunction with the state Department of Health, will be responsible for the establishment and operation of regional sites – at least one per intermediate unit – along with distribution and administration of medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, vaccines and supplies, according to the state.

Wolf made the Guard a part of the efforts through House Bill 326, which he signed into law shortly after announcing that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would be designated for Pennsylvania educators and other staff.

Butler said the National Guard and members of AMI Expeditionary Healthcare will work together on the effort locally.

Forest Hills School District announced this week that an early dismissal will take place March 11 to allow staff and service providers to get the vaccine.

The junior-senior high school students will be released at 12:35 p.m. and the elementary learners will leave at 1:10 p.m. that day, Superintendent David Lehman said. 

Faith and science 

Support for the new shots isn’t absolute.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Pro-Life Activities, spoke out Tuesday against the use of the new J&J vaccine.

“The approval of Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine for use in the United States again raises questions about the moral permissibility of using vaccines developed, tested, and/or produced with the help of abortion-derived cell lines,” a release on the USCCB website said.

The two take issue with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being produced with abortion-derived cell lines.

“The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has judged that ‘when ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available … it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process,’ ” the release said.

They end the statement by saying that either Pfizer or Moderna should be chosen over the Johnson & Johnson option.

According to the June 5 article, under the headline “Abortion opponents protest COVID-19 vaccines’ use of fetal cells,” the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “developed from retinal cells from an 18-week-old fetus aborted in 1985.”

The cell lines were developed in the lab of molecular biologist Alex van der Eb at Leiden University.

Jill D. Henning, an associate professor of biology at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, said the cells used in creation of the vaccine are not the same as the source material.

That’s because the cells have been “immortalized” by combing them with a cancer cell called a myeloma to create a new cell called a hybridoma, which can then be grown “indefinitely.”

“All kinds of cell lines are made that way so we can get all kinds of research,” Henning said. 

Joshua Byers is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @Journo_Josh.

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