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COVID-19 vaccine for young children is safe, necessary for kids once available

Covid-19 Vaccine
Ashton Jones
90.5 WESA

On today’s program: UPMC pediatric infectious diseases specialist Dr. Andrew Nowalk explains how the COVID-19 vaccine has been tested for safety among children aged five to 11 years old; U.S. Senator Bob Casey discusses a bill he is co-sponsoring to help workers transition to  renewable energy industries; and Michael Rinsem with Community College of Allegheny County explains how training the new workforce in the region requires forethought and a focus on skills .

Young children are one step closer to being able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine
(0:00 - 8:00)

Last week, Pfizer and BioNTech officially asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages five to 11.

If approved, parents could be getting their children immunized as soon as November.

“Many of the same steps are observed when we’re looking at a pediatric vaccine as well as an adult vaccine,” says Dr. Andrew Nowalk, who is with the Division of Pediatric Infectious Disease at UPMC Children’s. “The reason the pediatric vaccine has been slower to come out with this pandemic is simply based on where we’ve seen the severe disease.”

Nowalk points out that most severe COVID-19 cases have been among adults, especially early on in the pandemic, which meant a vaccine for adults was imperative.

“When we saw the studies that were just put out by Pfizer, what they showed was that using one-third of the dose for the adult vaccine, you could generate the same amount of antibodies in kids and that presumably will also limit in any way it can the number of adverse reactions in children,” says Nowalk.

A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found a third of parents questioned indicated they will vaccinate their young children right away once a vaccine is available. Another third of parents said they would wait and see.

“I don’t think we’ve made a clear enough case that COVID has been deadly for children as well in the United States,” says Nowalk. “We have had more than 600 deaths in the United States from infection, another 50 deaths from the inflammatory syndrome, and although that will sometimes sound like not a lot, every one of those deaths is preventable.”

Nowalk says despite the promising results of Pfizers’ study, the research isn’t over.

“We never stop monitoring this vaccine for its safety, and we learn more about it after it goes under the EUA [Emergency Use Authorization], and we’ll need to because the trial was done in several thousand children,” he says. “I want to see what it’s gonna do in several million children so we can make sure that it continues to be effective.”

U.S. Senator Bob Casey co-sponsoring legislation to support worker transitions to jobs in renewable energy
(8:11 - 14:58)

U.S. Senator Bob Casey and seven of his Democratic colleagues introduced the “American Energy Worker Opportunity Act.” The bill is intended to help workers find employment in renewable resources.

The legislation would create a worker transition program for those whose employment in the coal or oil refinery industries is terminated. It would offer wage supplements, health care, and education and training funds.

“There’s no question that tens of thousands, if not more would benefit from this legislation, and frankly it’s long overdue,” says Casey. “It’s really about focusing on the workers so that they have other opportunities, but also we need a bridge to their tomorrow, and one of the bridges to their tomorrow is, for example, wage replacement, so that they will have supplemental income as they get across that bridge to a new job, a new career, a new endeavor.”

Casey says the training programs the bill could fund would include partnerships with community colleges and unions.

This legislation touches on President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, but Casey says it should stand alone as a bill because “it’s very specific about the policy and about how you build or construct a policy.”

Community College of Allegheny County has seen steady growth in workforce development program, including training for renewable energy careers
(15:00 - 22:30)

As Senator Bob Casey’s “American Energy Worker Opportunity Act” makes its way through the legislative process, the Community College of Allegheny County’s Workforce Solutions Program is already training students for starting careers in renewable energy.

“We are actually in the middle of a big expansion with our workforce programs, including a new facility on our North Shore location that will be the Workforce Development Center,” says Michael Rinsem, the endowed professor of the technical curriculum with CCAC.

Rinsem says the program's industry focus falls under what he calls “advanced manufacturing.”

“We’re replacing the way we’ve done manufacturing as we bring new technology in,” says Rinsem.

Students are certified to work within certain industries to prove their knowledge and competency

Rinsem says the programs have grown over the years in enrollment. For example, the mechatronics program is teaching 110 students this semester, but in 2014 enrolled only 23 students. As industries and technology change, Rinsem says he would like to see more investment in training programs.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
Marylee is the editor/producer of The Confluence, the daily public affairs show on WESA. She got her start in journalism at The Daily Reveille and KLSU while attending Louisiana State University. She took her passion for audio journalism to UC Berkeley's graduate program and worked in public radio at WPR in Madison, WI, and WOSU in Columbus, Ohio.
Laura Tsutsui is a producer for The Confluence, WESA's morning news show. Previously, she reported on the San Joaquin Valley with the NPR affiliate station in her hometown of Fresno, California. She can be reached at
Rebecca Reese is a production assistant for The Confluence.
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