Frontlines- Heather Richards

Conemaugh Health System RN, Heather Richards prepares her work station for a recent community vaccination clinic that was held on Monday, March 22, 2021,  at the Galleria in Richland Twp.

HARRISBURG – State officials are pressing to convince more Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated against COVID-19, as federal officials warn that stalling progress on vaccinations nationally suggests the country may not reach herd immunity for the novel virus.

On Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf joined representatives of the Philadelphia Flyers as part of a campaign to overcome vaccine hesitancy. 

Earlier Monday, acting Physician General Denise Johnson was in State College visiting a vaccine clinic at Penn State to encourage college students to get vaccinated.

Wolf declined to speculate about what percentage of Pennsylvanians will need to have gotten vaccinated before the state relaxes COVID restrictions.

“We want to get to that point where we feel safe,” he said.

He noted that, while health experts have expressed concern about whether the country will achieve herd immunity, chief White House medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci has stressed that the important goal should be to get as many people vaccinated as possible, rather than to fixate on the herd immunity concept.

“People were getting confused and thinking you’re never going to get the infections down until you reach this mystical level of herd immunity, whatever that number is,” Fauci told The New York Times. “That’s why we stopped using herd immunity in the classic sense. I’m saying: Forget that for a second. You vaccinate enough people, the infections are going to go down.”

Just over 50% of Pennsylvanians 16-and-older have gotten at least one dose of COVID vaccine and 33% have been fully vaccinated, Wolf said. 

As of Monday, the state had administered more than 8.6 million vaccine doses.

“It’s really important that we get back to life as normal,” Wolf said. “Vaccines are the key to that. We need more Pennsylvanians to get the vaccine.”

Johnson said health officials are encouraging college students to get vaccinated, even if that means getting the first dose on campus and then getting the second dose from a separate vaccine provider at home.

The Department of Health is encouraging vaccine providers to work with college students and others who may need to get vaccines in two different locations to ensure they are fully vaccinated. Beginning this week, providers will no longer be required to order a specific number of second doses of vaccine for administration. Instead, they will order a total number of doses they expect to administer as first or second doses. This will ensure providers have the vaccine they need for scheduled appointments and second dose requests.

“We are encouraging students to take advantage of local vaccination sites on or near their college campus so they can protect themselves, their families, friends and loved ones from COVID-19 before returning home at the end of the semester,” Johnson said.

 “Our need to get people vaccinated is a race against the spread of COVID-19 and its variants, some of which are extremely contagious. We need to vaccinate all Pennsylvanians to prevent the further spread of this virus.”

John Finnerty is based in Harrisburg and covers state government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @CNHIPA.

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