COVID-19 vaccine strongly recommended for community when available to public

January 14, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Stopping the spread of COVID-19 not only involves continuing vigilance and ongoing use of face masks and physical distancing, but according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also relies on the latest tool -- a vaccine. In Pennsylvania, the state Department of Health and county health departments are responsible for COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which is being done in a phased approach with health care workers and those in long-term care facilities in the initial phase (Phase 1A).  

At this time, Penn State has not been named a distribution site for the vaccine and faculty, staff and students should visit Pennsylvania’s vaccine website for information on when they may be eligible to receive a vaccine and where those vaccines may be available in their communities. Vaccine distribution may vary by county across the commonwealth. 

According to the state’s vaccine website, there are close to one million individuals to be vaccinated during Phase 1A distribution, which is currently under way. Phase 1B – which has no timeline yet -- is expected to involve people ages 65 and older, people in congregate settings, first responders, public transit workers, postal workers and child care workers. The list for Phase 1B also includes “education workers” as a category of people to be vaccinated, however, there is no definition yet provided on who is to be included in this category. Penn State officials are seeking clarity on this aspect of Pennsylvania’s plan, along with what the state considers to be “congregate settings” (beyond prisons and elderly care facilities), since residence halls bring together large numbers of students. 

What to know in weeks ahead 

Following are some frequently asked questions that should help inform the University community as Pennsylvania’s vaccination program unfolds:

Q: Where can I find information on the vaccine roll out within the commonwealth? 

The Pennsylvania Department of Health will distribute the vaccine in phases, and released an updated plan on Jan. 8.  Pennsylvania health officials have cautioned that the state is still months away from having enough doses of the two approved vaccines to inoculate the general public.

Q: Can any University employee now receive a COVID-19 vaccine? 

The University has been working in collaboration with Penn State Health to vaccinate a select group of our Penn State health care personnel that are in the priority tiers (phases) established by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Those employees are being notified via their leadership about the processes to obtain a vaccine. Under Pennsylvania’s immunization plan, those people who are in long-term care facilities and those with high-risk medical conditions, like cancer, chronic kidney disease or severe COPD, are expected to be next in line. There is no timeline given for future phased distribution, and it is anticipated that vaccine supply will increase substantially in 2021. In addition, vaccine distribution may vary by county across the commonwealth. We will update information as we learn more from the Department of Health.

After reviewing the state’s immunization plan, if you believe you qualify to receive the vaccine, we encourage you to contact your physician or local health care network regarding your eligibility and registration for receiving a vaccine.

Q: When am I eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has determined the first group of people eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Pennsylvania are health care workers. The state’s website lists the phased approach and the individuals that fall into each tier. While there is a category that lists “education workers” – there is no definition provided on who may be included in this category. Penn State officials are seeking clarity on this aspect of Pennsylvania’s plan. The stated goal of the Pennsylvania Department of Health is for everyone to be able to easily receive a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as large quantities are available. However, not everyone will be able to get vaccinated right away and we urge community members to continue taking appropriate steps (masking, hand washing, physical  distancing, avoiding large gatherings) to mitigate your risk of contracting COVID-19.

Q: Can I get on a wait list for the vaccine?

The Pennsylvania Department of Health will continue to provide guidelines on distribution, which will eventually involve the general public. It is understandable how concerning it may be to not receive a vaccination right away, but we urge you to continue taking steps to protect yourself from COVID-19 such as wearing a face mask and avoiding large gatherings.

With this in mind, every health care network has instituted its own method for registering to receive a vaccine. If you believe that you qualify to receive the vaccine, we encourage you to contact your physician or local health care network.

Q: Is Penn State making the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for employees or students? 

At this time, the vaccine is not yet available to the general public and a decision about whether to require the vaccine has not been made. However, when the vaccine does become available we certainly strongly encourage participation by everyone as part of our efforts to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on our campus communities. More information will be forthcoming through the Pennsylvania Department of Health (which is overseeing the vaccine distribution) and the University.

Q: Once I receive a vaccine, must I still participate in University testing programs and wear a mask on campus?

The COVID-19 vaccine will not be the cure for the virus. It will be another tool in our fight against COVID-19, and students, faculty and staff must continue to practice other mitigation efforts, like wearing a mask, hand washing and physical distancing. Vaccination does not exempt students, faculty and staff from participating in the University’s COVID-19 testing programs.  

COVID-19 vaccines are an essential piece of the puzzle to help us stop this pandemic. Wearing masks and physically distancing help reduce your chance of being exposed to the virus or spreading it to others, and when available to everyone, research is currently indicating vaccines will work with your immune system to ready it to fight the virus if you are exposed. In addition, researchers continue to learn more about how the COVID-19 vaccination may reduce the severity of illness, as well as reduce the rate of transmission in our communities, which is why everyone is strongly encouraged to receive the vaccine when it is available to them.

As additional information regarding vaccine distribution becomes available, the University will share updates on Penn State News and Penn State’s Virus Information website. Individuals also can call the COVID-19 Response Center at 814-865-2121 for specific questions. For those who have a question about the COVID-19 vaccines, call the PA Health Hotline at 1-877-724-3258. 




Last Updated February 17, 2021