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02-21-21-covid-vaccine-kylie-cooper

A Philadelphia resident getting vaccinated at the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium clinic at Temple University’s Liacouras Center on Feb. 20.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

Philadelphia has extended the deadline for health care workers and higher education students, faculty, and staff to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Acting Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole extended the initial deadline that required full vaccination by Oct. 15, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The extension comes in response to employers requesting more time to get workers vaccinated and fears of staffing shortages.

The mandate now requires hospital and long-term care facility workers and higher education faculty, students, and staff to receive only their first vaccine dose by Oct. 15 and the second dose one month later, the Inquirer reported. All other health care workers must receive the first dose by Oct. 22 and the second by Nov. 22.

“My goal is to get everyone vaccinated and not leave our health care and higher education systems shorthanded,” Bettigole told the Inquirer.

Philadelphia announced its initial COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August due to the Delta variant and prevalence of COVID-19 cases among college-aged students.

The mandate provides religious and medical exemptions for the vaccine but requires those individuals to wear masks and undergo biweekly testing, the Inquirer reported. Those without an exemption will be unable to continue working or studying after the deadline without the vaccine. 

History and Sociology of Science Associate Professor David Barnes said he believes public health authorities are mandating what they believe is going to be most helpful to get as close to 100% vaccination rates as possible.  

“Everyone is walking a tightrope between getting the critical mass of people vaccinated and not wanting to be authoritarian or come down too hard on people,” he said. 

On April 22, Penn announced that all students had to be fully vaccinated before coming to campus for the fall semester unless receiving a medical or religious exemption. On June 1, Penn announced a similar mandate for all faculty, staff, and post-doctoral students by Aug.1. 

“Getting vaccinated and recording your vaccination status are the next and most critical steps in our collective efforts to end this crisis and return to normalcy,” Penn administrators wrote in an email. 

Penn’s vaccination mandate had mixed reactions from students. Some felt it was beneficial to protecting the health of the community, while some were concerned about the difficulties it posed for international students 

In addition to the COVID-19 vaccine, all Penn students are required to have the flu vaccine this year. Penn is holding a flu vaccine clinic in Pottruck Health and Fitness Center from Oct. 4 to Oct. 8 where students can receive the shot for free. 

Vaccination rates among health care workers in Pennsylvania have been slow to reach the state's goals. Under 20% of Philadelphia nursing homes have vaccinated at least 80% of their staff and only a third of Pennsylvania health care workers reported being fully vaccinated. 

Bettigole told the Inquirer she does not plan to extend the deadline further. 

“We’ve seen from other places that have implemented vaccine mandates that they work, that workers do step up and get their vaccines despite lots of anxiety before the deadlines,” she told the Inquirer.

At Penn, COVID-19 positivity rates remain low while vaccination rates continue to increase. Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé wrote in a Sept. 30 email to the Penn Community that 95% of faculty and staff and 96% of students are vaccinated.

“We are learning to co-exist with COVID-19 and our experience thus far shows that COVID-19 does not deter us from fulfilling our academic mission here at Penn,” Dubé wrote. 

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