Philadelphia partners with CHOP to vaccinate educators at pop-up clinics

A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center

A COVID-19 vaccination site is set up at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Updated: 3:45 p.m.

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The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is partnering with the city’s department of public health to administer COVID-19 vaccines to teachers, child care providers, and other people who work with children in the city.

The effort is expected to begin by the end of February and include pop-up clinics in school buildings throughout the city, according to a press release issued by Mayor Jim Kenney’s office Monday. Those eligible include staff at all district, charter, independent, and parochial schools, as well as child care and pre-K providers.

“Getting children back into classrooms throughout the city is vitally important to their future, so I am absolutely thrilled to see Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia stepping up in a major way for our children,” Kenney said in a statement.

School District of Philadelphia Superintendent Dr. William Hite also hailed the news.

“We are thankful for this initiative that prioritizes our employees, and look forward to supporting the implementation of this plan as we continue with our plan to return our staff and students back to school,” he said.

The announcement comes as the Philadelphia teachers union has staged a citywide protest against the school district for its attempt to bring some teachers back into buildings, ahead of a planned return of up to 9,000 young children to classrooms later this month.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has expressed concerns about the safety plan, which includes installing over 1,000 window fans in classrooms that lack adequate ventilation. The union has argued school-based staff should not be asked to return until they’ve been vaccinated.

Union President Jerry Jordan did not directly answer a question about whether the CHOP news would change the union’s calculus about returning, though he did call the announcement an “encouraging step.”

“We’ve been advocating for a swift path to vaccination for school staff, because its a critical layer of protection against this deadly virus,” Jordan said.

At the current rate of vaccination, it could take until April or May for Philadelphia’s teachers to be fully inoculated against COVID-19. Spokespeople for CHOP and the city could not immediately say whether the new partnership will compress that timeline.

Philadelphia Department of Public Health spokesman James Garrow said in an email that the city does not yet have an estimate on how the CHOP partnership could affect the speed of vaccinations, but pointed out that the health department only expects to receive 20,000 doses per week for the foreseeable future.

“This dose allocation is for the entire city, and our priority list currently includes any healthcare workers, people over the age of 75, people with high-risk medical conditions, first responders, people living and working in congregate care sites, public transit, those working in the food industry, and teachers, school staff, and childcare workers,” he said.

The teachers union and school district are now waiting on a decision by a city-appointed mediator tasked with weighing the evidence and deciding whether school buildings are safe.

Jordan said Monday morning he expects that decision to come imminently. It’s not clear how the union or the district will react to the meditator’s findings.

CHOP researchers have argued that classrooms could reopen safely before widespread vaccination based on studies of coronavirus transmission in other districts. In recent weeks and months, many other Philadelphia-area public and private schools have been offering in-person classes with limited viral outbreaks.

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