The Lead

As Pa.’s vaccine rollout stumbles, House will vote on whether to turn it over to National Guard

By: - February 4, 2021 9:40 am

(Getty Images via The Beacon)

In an effort to boost Pennsylvania’s vaccine rollout, state lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow the commonwealth’s National Guard to distribute vaccines. 

Legislation sponsored by state Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, would “utilize the Pennsylvania National Guard in developing vaccine distribution infrastructure.”

“With Pennsylvania being at the bottom of states when it comes to vaccine administration, it is simply unacceptable,” O’Neal, an Army veteran, said. “I’m hopeful my legislation to involve the National Guard in distributing and possibly administering the vaccine will speed efforts to get shots in arms. The National Guard has expertise in logistics. We need to use their talents to take this important step in stopping the spread of COVID-19.”

Hours after Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf gave his 2021-22 budget address, members of his own party began offering their support for the bill, arguing that Wolf’s budget proposal did little to boost rollout efforts. 

State Rep. Chris Sainato, a Democrat from Lawrence County, rebuked Wolf, saying that vaccines, not other proposals, needed to be Pennsylvania’s priority.

“I don’t believe we can talk in terms of meaningful recovery until we address two critical issues: getting more vaccines into the arms of Pennsylvania residents and getting our small businesses the help they need to stay alive,” Sainato said in a statement. 

“As to the first issue, residents have been encountering frustration and delays over a vaccine rollout that is leaving some eligible residents without access even as their neighbors in adjacent counties are able to get the vaccine. The state needs to focus its attention on developing a plan that provides greater organization and consistency among counties and a more transparent process that does not leave residents in the dark,” Sainato continued.

“We have a large and talented National Guard contingent who can be mobilized to help with the rollout, as well as members of the Red Cross and numerous volunteers with medical backgrounds who have offered to be part of the effort,” the western Pennsylvania lawmaker continued. 

The new distribution plan utilizing the Pennsylvania National Guard comes after mounting criticism over the sputtering of the state’s vaccine distribution program, the departure of state Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine, who was tapped for a federal post by the Biden administration last month, and concerns over who is distributing vaccines following a scandal involving Philadelphia’s Health Department and for-profit group Philly Fighting COVID. 

The bill is currently on second consideration and will see a vote Thursday, according to a House GOP spokesperson.

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