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Children receive vaccine

‘It will be worth it in the long run,’ teen says of vaccination

Landon Burwell, 12, receives a COVID-19 vaccine as his father, Dr. David Burwell, looks on at Station Medical Center on Friday. Mirror photo by William Kibler

Emily Burwell, 16, isn’t a fan of remote learning, especially when it involves complex concepts best grasped with back-and-forth, in-person interaction with a teacher.

Emily may have helped minimize the need for future remote learning Friday as one of four children who received COVID-19 shots in a ceremony at Station Medical Center.

Emily has actually been eligible for vaccination since April 19, as a result of Pennsylvania working its way through vulnerable populations and getting enough vaccines, but the other three kids who got their shots Friday became eligible just this week, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention accepted a study that found the Pfizer vaccine safe and effective for children 12 to 15 years old.

The COVID-19 pandemic not only forced an inferior substitute kind of learning on students, but also created lots of frustration, Emily said.

Selected students, depending on whom they were in close contact with, were quarantined “over and over and over,” and when quarantines ended, and those students went back to school in person, it was hard to get caught up, she said.

Sam Blescia, 13, son of Dr. Jill Blescia (right), receives a COVID-19 vaccination on Friday at Station Medical Center. Mirror photo by William Kibler

She attends the Greater Altoona Career & Technology Center, and it was closed Friday, due to COVID-19 cases — a closure that ironically cleared the way for Emily to participate in the event at Station Mall, noted her uncle, David Burwell, chief quality officer for UPMCs Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland, who participated in the vaccination event.

Dr. Burwell’s son, Landon, 12, never quarantined, but knew schoolmates who did, and will be glad of the protection that his shot on Friday will confer against it happening to him.

People who question the COVID-19 vaccinations have asked him what he planned to recommend for his own family, and Friday was his answer, according to Burwell.

“Today we showed them,” he said, emphasizing that part of the purpose was to provide an example to the community.

The Pfizer study that opened the way for children 12-15 years old to get vaccinated was based on an analysis of the results for 2,000 individuals that found the shots were 100% effective, with a safety profile similar to that for vaccinated people 16 and older, Burwell said.

Science is slowly adding subgroups to those who can safely get shots, he said.

The intention is for vaccinations to be available eventually for people as young as 2, he said.

The real-world efficacy of the vaccines has proven to be “fantastic,” according to Burwell. Not only do the shots protect the person vaccinated, but, due to low transmissibility for vaccinated people, it protects others, too. And they protect against virus variants, he said.

Those factors led to the CDC dropping its recommendations this week for vaccinated people to mask — although there are some exceptions, he said.

Breakthrough cases — infections that occur despite vaccinations — happen, but are rare, Burwell said. When they do, they are usually mild.

Landon said some of his friends have said they want to get a shot too, after they found out he was going to get one.

Emily said several kids tried to talk her out of it, arguing there could be future side effects, particularly infertility, but she dismissed those arguments.

There’s no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines cause infertility, according to webMD.

Sophia Blescia, 15, and her brother, Sam, 13, children of pediatrician Jill Blescia, also got shots Friday at Station Medical Center.

Sophia got one because she doesn’t want to be the subject of contact tracing and doesn’t want to miss out on in-person schooling and sports, she said. She plays soccer.

None of her friends discouraged her, and some have already gotten their own shots, she said.

A couple of those said it hurt them, however.

She didn’t even feel it, which was a pleasant surprise, she said.

If the shot makes her feel ill for a while today, as a side effect, “it will be worth it in the long run,” she said.

His mother wanted him to get the shot so he would not miss out on school and sports, said Sam, who plays baseball.

He thinks getting the shot was a good idea himself, although some of his friends did not. They just don’t like the idea of getting jabbed, but aren’t really concerned about side effects, he said.

Next week, UPMC will hold vaccination clinics in the Altoona Area School District and the Hollidaysburg Area School District for everyone 12 and older, Burwell said.

UPMC is also working with businesses to give employees shots and it has begun programs to vaccinate the homebound, according to Burwell.

Infections are down in the far-flung UPMC system, according to Burwell and spokeswoman Danielle Sampsell.

On Friday, there were 200 total COVID-19 inpatients, with 39 of those in the four-hospital region that is in Burwell’s jurisdiction, Sampsell said.

UPMC has administered 536,000 vaccinations so far, according to Sampsell.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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