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Acting Pa. Physician General Encourages Vaccinations During Bryce Jordan Center Visit

Acting Pennsylvania Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson visited Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center on Monday afternoon to receive a tour of the state-run regional COVID-19 vaccination clinic, encourage efforts to administer doses and provide an update on where the state stands as summer draws near.

The clinic itself was rather quiet during Johnson’s tour, perhaps due to the start of finals week for Penn State students. In a post-tour press conference, Johnson encouraged community members and students alike to schedule their shots before summer travel begins to, hopefully, lower risks of COVID-19 transmission.

“The volume’s been a little bit lower, although I love seeing college students and others get vaccinated,” Johnson said. “We also want to ensure that vaccinations continue. We want to make it easy for college students to have access to vaccines so they can get vaccinated before their semester ends and they leave to go home.”

Johnson also suggested that parents picking up students this month could take advantage of the clinic’s walk-in availability if they’re not vaccinated yet.

Johnson receives a tour of the BJC’s revamped concourse

The BJC’s vaccine site offers patients a choice between the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-dose Moderna vaccine. Johnson assured that both are safe to take and effective against COVID-19.

Johnson said she received a vaccine as soon as she could earlier this year and encouraged others, including her family and friends, to do the same. All Pennsylvania adults, including Penn State students, are eligible to schedule vaccine appointments.

She noted, though, that some people may still be apprehensive about the vaccines’ effectiveness and safety. Johnson encouraged prospective patients to speak with their doctors to learn more about the vaccines and how they could affect them.

Johnson said vaccinations are increasingly important as COVID-19 variants, which may be deadlier and more infectious, become more prevalent in communities. Just this spring, Penn State found the B.1.1.7 COVID-19 strain in the local community through wastewater testing.

“The war against COVID-19 is not yet done,” Johnson said. “We still have variants circulating, and that’s making our job harder. We’re seeing infections now in younger people, college-aged, but also in children. The tool that we have to mitigate this spread is vaccination.”

Johnson also fielded questions from reporters surrounding Pennsylvania’s efforts to achieve herd immunity — a form of indirect protection from a virus that could transpire if a sufficient portion of a population becomes immune to infection. According to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, about 70% of the population would need to be immune to achieve herd immunity.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 50.3% of Pennsylvanians already received at least one dose.

However, Johnson said it might be too soon to predict if or when exactly herd immunity could be achieved.

“We’re really optimistic. We really want to get more people vaccinated, just one vaccination at a time,” Johnson said. “[A vaccine administration percentage] is not the only metric we’re looking at. We also want to see cases go down, and right now, we’re plateaued…We just have to keep working at it.”

Johnson poses with officials behind the BJC’s clinic, including Kelly Wolgast, director of Penn State COVID-19 Operations Control Center (right)

Theoretically, vaccination rates in Pennsylvania could receive a boost if Penn State required shots for students who return to campus next fall, just like Rutgers, for example, already has. But Johnson said that choice will ultimately be up to Penn State, which hinted earlier this year that it wasn’t ready to make that call.

“I think that’s a decision for the university,” Johnson said. “What we want is people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and their family members.”

Penn State’s seemed more focused on incentivizing vaccines for students rather than mandating them so far. The university recently said it’s considering implementing quarantine exemptions, among other unnamed privileges, for students who upload completed vaccine cards to its online student health portal.

Before ending her press conference, Johnson addressed the burning question on every Penn Stater’s mind: Could Beaver Stadium operate at full capacity come September?

“If they get vaccinated,” Johnson said before leaving the podium.

The BJC’s clinic is open weekly from Thursday through Monday and available to everyone, regardless of county of residence. Appointments can be made online, by calling 1-844-545-3450, or by walking in while the clinic is open from noon to 8 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.