Gov. Tom Wolf joined Penn State football coach James Franklin, university President Eric Barron and Nittany Lion tight end Theo Johnson on Wednesday afternoon at Pegula Ice Arena to encourage the university community and all Pennsylvanians to get a COVID-19 vaccine.
“I encourage all Pennsylvanians to get vaccinated as soon as possible because the sooner we all get vaccinated, the sooner we can safely get back to doing all of the things we’ve missed, like going to Penn State games,” Wolf said. “So getting vaccinated is a way each of us can play a part in overcoming this pandemic.”
Franklin wants “to get back to 107,000 strong here at Beaver Stadium” for the first time since 2019, but that’s not the only reason he implored fans to get the vaccine.
He and his wife, Fumi, are both fully vaccinated he said, not only to protect themselves but others as well, especially their daughter Addison, who has sickle-cell disease and is among the most vulnerable to the virus.
“I encourage everyone who is eligible to get vaccinated,” he said.
Franklin also recognized the impacts a return to normal will have beyond the football field.
“We want our Ball State game on September 11 to be our first family reunion in almost two years and we want Beaver Stadium and all of Happy Valley rocking,” Franklin said. “This is not just about Penn State football. This is about the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We know how important it is for our community and fans to have our college football and professional teams in all sports return to full capacity.
“These teams have an economic impact on our community and provide a sense of togetherness for every fan base. Getting the vaccine will help protect our community and our children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine. Getting the vaccine will help our local businesses by allowing them to return to normal operations and having large gatherings like football games to boost the economy.”
Many members of the Penn State football team and staff are fully vaccinated, Franklin said, and Johnson is awaiting his second dose.
“This past season we really missed the Penn State family cheering us on in Beaver Stadium,” Johnson said. “In order to be able to have 107,000 of our closest friends cheering us on this season we ask everyone that is able to get vaccinated… I speak for our entire program when I say we are looking forward to bringing the family back together this fall.”
The news conference at Pegula — where vaccines were being administered on another floor at the same time — came a day after the Wolf administration announced that most COVID-19 mitigation orders, including capacity restrictions, will end on May 31, with the exception of the statewide order to wear masks in public, which will be lifted when 70% of Pennsylvanians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated.
As of Wednesday morning, 50.9% of the state’s entire population has received a first dose, 10th best in the nation. Wolf said the second dose rate of 33.7% is above the national average.
“I think the big thing was the progress we’re making on the vaccines,” Wolf said of the decision to lift restrictions on Memorial Day. “All of us are becoming a lot more confident that we have a really good path to the kind of safety that we didn’t have 16 months ago. There was no algorithm that said ‘If we hit this we get to opening.’ There was just a lot of good indications we’re moving in the right direction and one of them is vaccines.”
He added, however, that it is imperative residents continue to get vaccinated. More than 90% of the state’s senior citizens have been vaccinated, and now, Wolf stressed, younger people, including college students need to do so, too.
“We’re doing really well but the thing is we really need everybody to get the vaccine,” Wolf said. “All the activities we missed out on since last spring get safer when we all get vaccinated.”
Vaccines are free and easy to get, and Wolf said students who get a first dose at college should be able to get a second dose wherever they are if they leave for the summer.
“Even if you get your first dose in a different county or state, you can get your second dose wherever you are certainly in Pennsylvania but I think that’s true in just about every state,” he said.
Wolf said he has had no discussions with any universities about mandating vaccinations prior to the start of the fall semester and that it is not on his agenda. Penn State has given no indication it will require students to be vaccinated but has suggested it will offer incentives to do so.
Barron called on Penn Staters to demonstrate leadership by getting vaccinated and encouraging family and friends to do so as well.
“This is the most important effort of our lifetime and I call on all Penn Staters to lead now,” Barron said.
He added that getting a vaccine is helping the community, including protecting those under 16 who are not yet eligible while helping toward a return to normal for school kids who have missed out on in-person learning and activities and small businesses that have struggled throughout the pandemic.
“The sooner we increase the vaccination numbers the sooner we’ll be back to business, in this arena, in that stadium, in our hometowns and in our communities across the commonwealth,” Barron said. “And it takes everyone. It takes leadership, commitment and community… Get your shot. Let’s show the nation that Pennsylvania and Penn Staters are leaders when it matters most.”
Franklin said he is “encouraged” by news about mitigation orders being lifted, “but we also understand that there’s still much work to be done.”
For Franklin, the message was clear.
“Do your part to help us together get back and gather,” he said.
In Centre County, COVID-19 vaccinations are available by appointment through Centre Volunteers in Medicine and Mount Nittany Health, by appointment or walk-in at the state-run regional vaccination clinic in the Bryce Jordan Center and by appointment at multiple pharmacies listed on the Pennsylvania Department of Health website.