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Pfizer Vaccine Could Be Prep Sports Game-Changer

Paul Steinbach

High school athletic directors were among those paying close attention to the announcement Wednesday that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was 100 percent effective in a new study of 12- to 15-year-olds.

“The vaccination clearly is another really strong way, maybe the strongest of all, to ensure the kids’ safety,” Don Holl, athletic director at Gateway High School in Monroeville, Pa., told Pittsburgh CBS affiliate KDKA. “It would be something we would strongly encourage so we could have as many athletes as possible vaccinated.”

As reported by KDKA, Allegheny Health Network chair of pediatrics Dr. Joseph Aracri said Pfizer’s results weren’t too surprising, based on its effectiveness with adults. “If a vaccine gives adults a good immune response, we know that the kids are going to reactive pretty positively,” Aracri said, adding that he hopes a roll-out timeline puts shots in arms by the beginning of next school year. “It may be you start the fall with masks and maybe basketball is without masks. It’s very difficult to predict because it’s a new virus.”

The Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League told KDKA any encouragement for students to get the vaccine would have to come from parents and individuals schools. Schools said because of privacy laws, they may be limited to just encouragement and nothing mandatory.

Gateway freshman Becca Ryan — who plays year-round in soccer, basketball and softball, and has struggled with mask-wearing and scheduling uncertainty caused by COVID-19 — would like to receive a shot sooner than later. “It would make it more normal playing against teams without having to worry about catching the virus,” she said.

In Michigan, Grand Rapids Public Schools spokesperson John Helmboldt is even more optimistic regarding availability. “Having talked to our athletic director, and he talking with some of his coaches, obviously they’re looking for any good news that’s going to be able to get the athletes back in sports and active this spring,” Helmboldt told local NBC affiliate WOOD, which reported Pfizer expects the vaccine to be available prior to start of the 2021-22 academic year.

Students unsure about getting the vaccine should do their homework, according to school officials. Said Helmboldt, “Use the data and the science and the health experts to guide that decision-making.”

The more that choose to do so, the closer schools can get to normal operations.

“Getting the vaccine, we can help certainly avoid all the contact tracing and quarantining for kids and having them not only miss school but also certainly missing their athletics,” Tim Ritsema, Jenison Public Schools director of athletics, told WOOD. “It’s been a battle every day, but it’s a battle we fight because it’s what’s best for student athletes.”

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