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Council member King makes vaccination pitch

The Rev. Sylvia King, a member of Johnstown City Council, used an inadvertent visual aid Wednesday while participating in a news conference hosted by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to encourage people in central Pennsylvania to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

King appeared on the video conference call with oxygen tubes in her nose, medical equipment she expects she’ll need for a few more months, until her lungs clear from a COVID-19 infection she contracted in early January.

“You certainly don’t want to end up in this position,” King said. “I would rather have taken the shot.”

Some people “pop back up” after getting COVID, King said.

“That was them,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it will be you.”

King and fellow news conference participant Ricky Britt, who like King is Black and who like her is a Johnstown council member, are concerned about Black people in their city not being willing to get vaccinated, King said.

Black, Hispanic and Native American people are three times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people, but are getting vaccinated at one-third the rate, according to an article this month in WebMD.

Some of that hesitancy stems from mistrust of the medical profession, due to experiences like the Tuskegee experiment, in which a group of black men with syphilis were promised treatment but didn’t get it, according to the article.

People need to trust the experts — “the scientists,” King said, when invited by Casey to talk about the problem of misinformation.

King got vaccinated against polio and smallpox as a child, and still has the smallpox vaccination mark on her arm, she said.

Her mother “just had the faith that this was going to help,” and those shots have protected her, King said.

“We now have to exercise our faith that this (COVID-19 vaccine) would work in the same manner,” she said.

“Get the vaccine,” she stated.

Britt also caught COVID-19 and spent time in the hospital.

“I was laid up for a week and a half,” he said.

During that time, he did virtually nothing but sleep and go to the bathroom, he said.

“I would wake up to go back to sleep,” he said.

“Get the shot,” he advised.

He has, and it was a “blessing,” with the only downside some arm tenderness for two or three days, he said.

Even if people start getting letters a decade from now inviting them to join some lawsuit based on some disease allegedly connected with a COVID vaccine, it wouldn’t invalidate the lifesaving protection the vaccines offer now, according to King.

Despite being developed through a federal program called Operation Warp Speed, the vaccines that have been approved through Emergency Use Authorizations by the Food and Drug Administration have passed all appropriate tests, said Dr. David Burwell, chief quality officer for UPMCs Altoona, Bedford Memorial and Western Maryland, and a participant in the news conference.

The vaccines were developed in record time, but that was largely due to many years of prior research and billions of dollars of prior investment — as well as government funding that eliminated the risk of developing a vaccine specifically for COVID-19, Burwell said.

“Yes, it was rapid,” he stated. “But I don’t believe corners were cut.”

The science says the vaccines are safe, he said.

Not only that, but their approximately 95% efficacy, based on studies that led to the Emergency Use Authorization approvals, is “phenomenal,” Burwell said.

Flu vaccines are considered “pretty good” when their effectiveness is only 55%, he said.

Still, there’s more testing to be done on sub-populations like children and women who are pregnant or about to be pregnant or who are breastfeeding, he said.

Research is also needed on the effectiveness of the vaccines on new variants of the virus, he said.

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