UPDATE: Governor Signs O’Neal Bill to Use National Guard to Coordinate Vaccination Deployment, Administration

On March 3, the governor signed into law legislation authored by Rep. Tim O’Neal (R-Washington) that will have the Pennsylvania National Guard assist with the distribution and administration of COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the Commonwealth.

“The quick timeline of this bill from introduction to becoming law is testament to the acknowledgment by all parties that we must do better at getting shot in arms, and the National Guard has the expertise in logistics to accomplish this mission,” O’Neal said. “The number of vaccines the Commonwealth receives will be increasing exponentially in the coming weeks, especially with the approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. With this new law, I am confident we are now in a better position to vaccinate the Commonwealth’s residents in a more orderly and accelerated pace.”

With Pennsylvania lagging behind the vast majority of states in its administration of the COVID-19 vaccine, the House is working on several fronts to get the shots off the shelves and into the arms of people who are asking for them. 

In an attempt to address those problems and increase the state’s vaccine rate, the House approved legislation that would activate the National Guard to help improve the state’s distribution of the vaccine. House Bill 326 calls on the guard to work with the Department of Health and Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to develop plans for the establishment and operation of community vaccination sites in each region of the state. As amended, the bill also requires the governor to submit a report to the General Assembly outlining how the National Guard has been integrated into the state’s vaccine plan. This report would include the availability and capacity of guard units for vaccinations and deployment to skilled nursing facilities to combat outbreaks, current and anticipated allocation of COVID-19 vaccines and federal guidance on use of the guard for vaccination efforts. 

The House Health Committee held a hearing with Department of Health officials, including acting Secretary Alison Beam, as well as hospital and pharmacy representatives. The session revealed a series of issues, most of which involve a lack of communication and coordination between the state and health care providers trying to administer the vaccines. The issues have led to Pennsylvania ranking 44th in the nation for the percentage of vaccines administered compared to the amount received according to Becker’s Hospital Review.