COVID-19 vaccine: Contracted security guards “slipping through the cracks”

Investigators

Harrisburg, Pa. (WHTM) — For several weeks, frontline workers across the state have been getting the COVID-19 vaccine. But some workers who are on the frontlines say they don’t have access to the vaccine.

“We want to get the vaccine as soon as possible,” Justin Edwards said.

Edwards is a privately contracted security guard. Since May, he has been working full-time at a COVID-19 testing site.

“I am out there dealing with the public, people that have symptoms, and people that have COVID,” Edwards said.

Edwards says he wants to get the COVID-19 vaccine but cannot get a straight answer about if or when he qualifies under Pennsylvania’s vaccination phases.

“We feel that we are often overlooked,” William Hamilton said.

Hamilton is the Director of Security Services for INA, which employs over 130 privately contracted security guards. When the state first released its vaccination phases security guards were not included in Phase 1.

INA sent an email to Pennsylvania Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine in December asking the state to include security guards in Phase 1 of the vaccination plan. The email pointed out that many security guards work at pharmacies and hospitals and come in contact with people on a daily basis. When they didn’t get a response they contacted the abc27 Investigators.

“I would love to see them come back and say private security can be classified as first responders (which are in Phase 1),” Hamilton said.

The abc27 Investigators reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which said it was in the process of updating the vaccine phases to meet new guidance from the CDC.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the new guidance, revised on Jan. 8, now includes “security personnel” in phase 1C under ‘public safety’ workers.

“I thought it was a relief that we were being included in that,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s relief was short lived. He told the abc27 Investigators when he called the Pa. Department of Health to confirm he received a different answer.

“I asked for a definition of what public safety was and if it included contract security officers and I was told it does not,” Hamilton said.

The abc27 Investigators reached back out to the Pa. Department of Health, which then said “security guards may be included in 1A, 1B or 1C, depending on where they work. For instance, hospital workers, including security, would be covered in 1A. Security at financial institutions would be covered under 1C. “

Where does that leave privately contracted security guards?

“We are kind of slipping through the cracks here,” Edwards said.

The abc27 investigators reached out to several healthcare providers to see if contracted security guards would be offered the COVID-19 vaccine.

UPMC said its employed security officers have been offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine. In addition, any contracted security officers that work at UPMC Pinnacle facilities are also being offered the opportunity to receive the vaccine this week.

UPMC has also set up a website where frontline healthcare workers, who are not affiliated with a hospital system, can request the vaccine.

Geisinger said all of its employees, including contracted employees, are able to schedule appointments to receive the vaccine on its website.

Penn State Health said it is offering the COVID-19 vaccine to all employees. Community providers who are a part of the state’s Phase 1A group for vaccinations can call the Penn State Health COVID-19 vaccine call center at 1-844-774-8883 to start the registration process.

WellSpan said both contracted and employed security personnel that are supporting Wellspan healthcare facilities and working with patients meet the criteria of being invited in Phase 1A of its vaccination rollout.

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