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Local youth roll up their sleeves for COVID vaccine

By Sue Sitter - | May 29, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Wearing his Rugby Panthers baseball cap, Macen Heisler receives his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID May 20. Heisler said he wanted “to stop the spread” of COVID-19.

A small group of Rugby youth walked into the Heart of America Johnson Clinic the afternoon of May 20, hoping to set an example as they rolled up their sleeves for COVID-19 vaccines.

One young vaccine recipient was Rugby High School sophomore Macen Heisler. Heisler had stayed busy in 2021 playing hockey with the Bottineau/Rugby Braves, who saw their season shortened by restrictions recommended by state health officials to combat the spread of the virus. Heisler joined the Panthers baseball team in the spring.

Heisler wore his cap into the clinic’s exam room for his shot. He’d been practicing with his team that week for regional playoffs.

Heisler said he decided to get the two-part Pfizer vaccine offered by the clinic “to stop the spread of COVID and protect my brother from the virus.”

“He just got surgery and had complications from it,” Heisler said of his younger brother, Aspen, who had recently undergone a back procedure to correct complications caused by previous cancer treatment in his spine.

Heisler adjusted his cap and folded his arms. “I’m a little nervous,” he said as he waited for the shot.

Macen Heisler’s mom, Randi Heisler, said of her son, “He’s involved in a lot of activities and sports and understands (the vaccine’s importance). He’s been careful all last year so he could participate. They have almost-full seasons because they kept in their pods and wore their masks. He’s ready to move on and end it.”

Randi Heisler serves as coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health’s COVID vaccine program.

Randi Heisler said she “did highly encourage” Macen to receive the vaccine, “but I did ultimately leave it up to him and I feel proud that he made the decision to get it.”

Healthcare practitioner Dustin Hager, who sees patients at the clinic, said he hoped more families would look into immunizing their 12- to 15-year-olds for COVID.

“The Pfizer vaccine has now been approved for kids over the age of 12, so we’re just trying to point people toward the studies that have been done on the vaccine so they can make an informed decision,” Hager said.

“If you look at the research, with the Pfizer trial of kids 12 to 16, there were 2,600 kids enrolled in that study,” Hager explained, citing a study published on the Centers for Disease Control website. “They split them into two groups with 1,300 kids in the control group – that’s the kids who got the placebo, and 1,300 kids who got the vaccine,” Hager added. “Of the 1,300 kids who got the vaccine, nobody in that group contracted COVID. Of the kids who got the placebo, there were roughly 16 of the 1,300 that ended up getting COVID. So, if you look at from a larger point of view, you see that the vaccine prevented everybody from getting COVID, and from the placebo, there’s still a small number of children that contracted COVID.”

Hager said side effects were “the same thing that a lot of adults saw: kids had headaches, they had mild fevers, body aches, muscle aches, that sort of thing. So, the risks that we’re seeing so far are very low when we’re talking about giving the vaccine.”

“I think there are lots of reasons to consider getting vaccinated,” Hager said. “Not only personal health, but looking at your family – the concern about could your child give it to Grandma? There’s the idea we give the vaccine to prevent that from occurring. So, it’s more than just an individual person looking at it. You have to take into account your entire situation.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised as we see things opening back up if the travel industry put in place requirements to get on an airplane, let’s say, or to travel to certain locations,” Hager added.

“So, families may look at it if they want to travel, they may have to get the vaccine,” Hager said. “That’s not uncommon. We’ve seen that with vaccinations in the past. Schools require certain vaccines in order to get into school. There are some exemptions that exist but by and large they’re not widespread.”

Hager also noted vaccines are often required for those who get jobs in the healthcare industry. Some high school students take jobs or training courses in nursing home or facilities where immunizations would be required as well.

Both Hager and Randi Heisler encouraged parents to research the facts on vaccines to make informed decisions.

“I think there’s a lot of misinformation out there,” Randi Heisler said. “A lot of people get their information from social media or the news and it’s not always accurate. You should really listen to your doctor. Especially now with 12-15 year olds able to get the vaccine – my other son is getting it today, too; he’s 12,” Heisler added.

“It’s an informed decision everyone has to make but make sure you’re getting the right information,” Heisler stressed.

“The vaccine was produced quickly, but there were a lot of barriers that happened that will be used in future vaccinations,” Heisler noted. “It’s really important to get the right information and from the right sources.”

Heisler said despite the short time between the study phase and approval for use, the vaccine had been tested rigorously using large numbers of trial participants.

Three adults also came in for vaccine doses when the clinic opened the vial of Pfizer vaccine to make sure they used the full contents, which Hager said provides enough for seven patients.

“There’s no longer a shortage of vaccine,” Heisler noted, referring to earlier in the year, when the vaccine was rationed according to risk group. “You don’t have to wait your turn; it’s available to everyone.”

“I just think we need to encourage everyone to make an informed decision,” Heisler said. “There are many options available now. If you’ve been hesitant in the past, don’t be afraid to reach out to your provider.”

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