Benninghoff: Wolf Fails to Prioritize COVID-19 Vaccine Administration

Member Group : Center Square

(The Center Square) – Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf faced criticism Thursday after lawmakers said his forthcoming budget proposal places zero focus on speeding up vaccine administration.

Wolf previewed his priorities during a news conference in a wide-ranging proposal that included a stepped increased of the minimum wage to $15, a severance tax on natural gas to fund workforce development programs, investments in infrastructure and schools, legalizing adult use cannabis, reducing the corporate net income tax and building on election law reform.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed Pennsylvania and exacerbated existing barriers for too many Pennsylvanians. It continues to have negative consequences for businesses, workers, and families throughout the commonwealth,” Wolf said. “To get Pennsylvania back on track from the disruptions the pandemic is causing, we need to make major, targeted investments to strengthen our economy, support workers and small business owners, rebuild our infrastructure, and help all Pennsylvanians build a path to financial security.”

“The governor and his administration should have no other top priority than getting Pennsylvanians vaccinated,” Benninghoff said. “Pennsylvania ranks near the bottom of the country in terms of vaccine deployment efficiency, and the confusing and short-sighted guidance from the administration has caused significant public angst. Getting vaccines into the arms of Pennsylvanians is the most significant key to getting Pennsylvania back to normal and beginning to solve many of the problems the governor outlined today.”

Pennsylvania has administered about 45 percent of the 1.9 million immunizations received from the federal government as of Thursday, according to The New York Times vaccine tracker. On Tuesday, the Department of Health said limited supply and overwhelming demand meant administration was going slower than officials had hoped.

Earlier this month, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention widened the scope of Americans eligible for vaccination in the first phase to include those 65 or older or those with chronic health conditions. This new guidance enveloped 3.5 million Pennsylvania residents into the first round, though the federal government’s weekly supply to the state remained around 140,000 doses.

Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus, said Republicans members continue brainstorming ways to speed up the process. Rep. Tim O’Neal, R-Washington, introduced a measure on Wednesday to involve the National Guard in vaccine deployment after health officials told The Center for Rural Pennsylvania that many providers lack enough manpower to “put shots in arms.”

Gottesman said the House Health Committee will also host a three-hour meeting on Feb. 1 “to exercise our oversight functions and ask questions about the abysmal rollout of the vaccine.”

Staff Reporter

Christen Smith follows Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for The Center Square. She is an award-winning reporter with more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues for niche publications and local newsrooms alike.