Philadelphia vaccine clinic - Grand Yesha Ballroom

A health worker administers a dose of a Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic at the Grand Yesha Ballroom in Philadelphia last week.

— AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Pennsylvania will accelerate its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan, opening eligibility to four targeted industries immediately and phase 1B early next month, with everyone in Pennsylvania eligible by April 19, state health officials confirmed Wednesday.

Those who are immediately eligible to begin receiving vaccines are law enforcement officials, firefighters, agriculture and food workers and grocery stores workers, none of whom can work remotely.

“All individuals in these groups” are eligible for vaccination regardless of immigration status or citizenship, Acting state Health Secretary Alison Beam said.

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Beginning on April 5, the commonwealth will make residents in phase 1B of the Department of Health’s Vaccine distribution plan eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

Beam confirmed that on April 19, two weeks ahead of President Joe Biden’s national directive, Pennsylvania will open vaccine eligibility to all Pennsylvanians who want the COVID-19 vaccine.

“The commonwealth will be prepared to open vaccine eligibility to all Pennsylvanians 16 or older,” Beam told reporters Wednesday.

In a briefing with reporters Wednesday, Beam said the expedited transition was made possible due to federal shipments of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to pharmacy partners in addition to federal vaccine allocations to the state.

Beam said the decision to move into the next phase came from talks with vaccine providers across the state.

“They are ready to move to the next phase of eligibility,” Beam said of the discussion with vaccine providers.

“Pennsylvania’s vaccine providers have dramatically stepped up the pace of vaccinations to an average of 83,000 per day, moving the keystone state higher and higher in the rankings with other states,” Beam said in a statement. “As we complete Phase 1A vaccinations, it’s time to open eligibility to more Pennsylvanians so providers can continue to fill appointments and efficiently, effectively and equitably vaccinate more people every day.”

In addition to the transition to 1B, state health officials laid out a timetable for vaccine distribution to phase 1C and to the rest of the commonwealth.

On April 12, a week after phase 1B, Pennsylvanians who meet the phase 1C criteria can begin receiving vaccines.

Beam said increased supply production and the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine allowed the state to “accelerate” vaccine distribution efforts.

Beam clarified that as the commonwealth moves on to the next phase, that people who are in a previous group can still get a vaccine if they want it.

While COVID-19 cases across the country have climbed recently, Beam said state health officials are “closely watching” Pennsylvania’s COVID case counts, death counts and hospitalizations.

In response to the news, state Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, who has pushed for faster vaccine rollout using the state’s National Guard, said “Today is a day of hope and optimism.

Earlier this month, we announced plans to prioritize our essential workers and first responders by offering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to them in the coming weeks. We have now done that today. In addition, we have set a timeline so that anyone who wants the vaccine will get able to begin scheduling their appointment at the latest by April 19. The light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter every day.”

Cassie Miller is Associate Editor of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star, where this article first appeared.

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