The Importance of Vaccines for Individuals with Substance Use Disorder

vaccineImage by Ulrike Leone

HARRISBURG, PA — The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP) was recently joined by representatives from Gaudenzia, the largest non-profit provider of drug and alcohol treatment in Pennsylvania, to discuss the importance of COVID-19 vaccinations for individuals with a substance use disorder and those who treat them.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), having a substance use disorder has been shown to increase the risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.

“The uncertain, stressful, and isolating nature of the pandemic has further exacerbated the overdose epidemic,” said DDAP Secretary Jen Smith. “Individuals with a substance use disorder may face risk factors that could place them at greater risk for contracting a more severe case of the COVID-19 virus. That’s why it is critically important that they schedule an appointment and get vaccinated.”

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In February, DDAP announced a partnership with the Department of Human Services (DHS), Rite Aid, and Walgreens to administer vaccinations to residential drug and alcohol treatment providers licensed by DDAP who identified as needing a vaccine provider. The partnership was a result of a survey sent to residential treatment providers on January 26, 2021, to better understand how many providers were still in need of establishing a partnership with a vaccine provider in Pennsylvania. To date, the partnership has coordinated vaccinations at 45 drug and alcohol treatment facilities and administered more than 1,400 doses of vaccine.

In addition to the DHS/Rite Aid/Walgreens partnership, DDAP encouraged licensed treatment providers and drug and alcohol service providers to establish their own connections with local health departments and hospital systems. Many providers across the state have implemented innovative ways to get their employees and clients vaccinated.

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“At Gaudenzia, we see every day the toll that the pandemic has taken on those suffering from substance use disorder,” said Gaudenzia Chief Executive Dale Klatzker. “As part of our commitment to the well-being of our clients, our staff is working hard to educate the individuals we care for and their families about the need to get vaccinated so they can protect themselves and others. We are also committed to making greater access to vaccines a top priority, and we commend the Wolf Administration and Secretary Smith for all that they are doing to help those who need it most.”

The Wolf Administration announced this week that all Pennsylvanians 16 and older are now eligible to schedule an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

For more information about the work the Wolf Administration is doing to combat the opioid crisis, visit

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