The gist: Independent pharmacies have been arguing for months that they can help make the vaccine rollout more equitable to those in at-risk communities. Philadelphia has recently approved more small pharmacies to supply doses. COVID-19 has heightened scrutiny on worker protections such as health and safety and equity and inclusion, and underscored the importance of giving workers voice and agency on the job.

— Kelly O’Shea (@kelloshea, health@inquirer.com)

What you need to know:

💉 AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine had a 79% efficacy rate at preventing symptomatic illness and was 100% effective in stopping hospitalization across adults of all ages in a study in the United States, the company announced Monday.

📈 New Jersey won’t be easing more coronavirus restrictions until cases begin to drop again, Gov. Phil Murphy said Monday, citing case numbers that have climbed since the end of February. COVID-19 cases also are rising again in Pennsylvania.

😷 Pennsylvania has aligned its guidance on masks to match that of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says it’s safe for fully vaccinated people to gather with those at low-risk for COVID-19 without masks.

🏥 Vaccinators say they could increase the supply of COVID-19 shots by 10% right now by giving the extra dose that occasionally remains in a vial after the official number of shots has been administered. But federal guidance on using residual vaccine is ambiguous, inconsistent, or puzzling.

🎒 The Philadelphia School District will open 22 more elementary schools April 5 to in-person instruction for some prekindergarten through second grade students.

🏦 A huge spike in Medicaid enrollment in Pennsylvania reflects the widespread economic devastation that the coronavirus caused across the commonwealth.

✈️ With campuses in Rome and Tokyo, Temple University is one of few schools in the region that has resumed study abroad.

📰 What’s going on near you? We organize recent coverage of the pandemic by local counties and Philly neighborhoods to make it easier for you to find info you care about. Now, you can also get those local headlines sent directly to your inbox by signing up here.

Local coronavirus cases

📈The coronavirus has swept across the Philadelphia region and cases continue to mount. The Inquirer and Spotlight PA are compiling geographic data on tests conducted, cases confirmed, and deaths caused by the virus. Track the spread here.

Workers have been fighting for stronger protections for years. COVID-19 made their struggles more dire.

Carlos Aviles has fought for years for adequate staffing at Temple University Hospital, where he is a pharmacy tech. “Health-care professionals need to feel respected at work by having the resources they need to care for their patients,” said Aviles. The pandemic has only made that clearer. When policy experts define what makes a good job, they often think of pay and benefits. COVID-19, however, heightened scrutiny on issues such as worker health and safety and equity and inclusion, experts say. It also underscored the importance of giving workers voice and agency on the job. Workers from a range of industries said COVID-19 reinforced the need for an employer that shows compassion for its workers.

More Philly pharmacies are carrying COVID-19 vaccine, offering a welcome alternative

Independent pharmacies have been arguing for months that they can help make the vaccine rollout more equitable to those in at-risk communities who might not have internet access or the ability to travel to far-flung clinics, and are more comfortable getting the new vaccine from someone they know and trust. Philadelphia now has 19 independent pharmacies approved to supply vaccine doses, up from just two in early February. About 10 of those were added in the last week. “They made it very cumbersome for everybody to do anything,” said Mel Brodsky, executive director of the Philadelphia Association of Retail Druggists, “down to asking what kind of model number you have on your freezer.”

Helpful resources

You got this: Making science fun

Dry ice is the unsung hero of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The substance has been key to keeping the vials at ultra-low temperatures on the trip from factory to clinic so the RNA-based vaccine does not degrade. My colleague Tom Avril spoke with a Temple University chemist who explained how it’s made and why it’s having a moment right now.

🧾 Tax season this year is bonkers. My colleague Erin Arvedlund shares the biggest changes you need to know.

🥐 Kellogg’s has nothing on these handmade Pop-tarts from Philly bakeries.

😤 If you’re experiencing vaccine envy, experts say you’re not alone and you shouldn’t feel bad about it.

Have a social distancing tip or question to share? Let us know at health@inquirer.com and your input might be featured in a future edition of this newsletter.

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