Bob Casey Jr.

Local emergency services agencies are ready to launch mass vaccine clinics as soon as enough vaccine becomes available, Art Martynuska, Cambria County Emergency Management Agency coordinator, said Wednesday.

Working through local school districts, the county’s COVID-19 task force has identified locations throughout the county that can serve as vaccine sites, Martynuska said during a virtual panel discussion organized by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey to provide vaccine information.

They include sites where the agency’s emergency response tents can be used to set up large clinics. One set of tents would be used for registration, and a second set would be used for vaccine clinics. After receiving vaccines, individuals would be directed to another area of the parking lot for the required 15 to 30 minutes of post-shot observation, Martynuska said.

The task force is coordinating with CamTran to ensure those without cars can get to the clinics.

“We have a lot of bases covered,” Martynuska said. “All in all, when the vaccine does become available, we will be able to move forward in distributing doses quite effectively and efficiently.”

Casey said that increasing vaccine supply must be the main priority for President Joe Biden’s administration, with support from Congress.

“The President is trying to give the states more notice of vaccine supply so they can plan and expect a certain amount, instead of having information provided in a matter that is not timely,” Casey said.

Johnstown City Council members Richard Britt and the Rev. Sylvia King participated in the virtual panel, sharing their experiences of battling COVID-19. Britt has subsequently received the vaccine.

Wearing an oxygen tube attached under her nose, King said she became ill shortly after New Year’s Day and spent 10 days in the hospital.

“If I can say anything to anyone: Get the vaccine,” she said. “You don’t want to end up in this position.”

She also urged those with concerns about the vaccine to check with credible scientific sources for information. She included The Tribune-Democrat’s “COVID-19: Your Questions” feature as one of her trusted sources.

Britt said he spent a few days in the hospital.

“For a week and a half, all I did was sleep and go to the bathroom,” Britt said. “That’s the worst I’ve ever been. I just had no energy.”

He also urged the audience to get the vaccine. Sharing his own experience, he said his arm was tender for a day or two after getting the shot, but there were no other side effects.

Dr. David Burwell, chief medical information officer for UPMC Altoona, Bedford, Somerset and Western Maryland hospitals, said the vaccine development followed proven safety protocols. Although the development was swift, the basic science has been in place for decades.

“A lot of things aligned to make it a faster process,” Burwell said.

The use of mRNA technology jump-started the process, with the vaccine prototype developed barely a week after the virus DNA sequence was mapped.

“For clinical trials, during a pandemic, you have a lot of eligible patients very rapidly,” he said.

He called the vaccines’ efficacy rates of above 90% “phenomenal.”

“We do not believe any corners were cut in the process,” Burwell said. “The medical community is absolutely behind the use of the vaccines.”

As doctors and public health officials scramble to get more vaccine into Pennsylvanians, the state topped 900,000 cases COVID-19 and added nearly 200 deaths on Tuesday, the Department of Health reported.

There were 3,413 additional cases across the state, bringing Pennsylvania’s total to 902,650 cases since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.

There were 193 additional COVID-19 deaths, including 10 deaths across the eight-county region. Cambria County had two new COVID-19 deaths, Blair County had three deaths, Clearfield County had one death and Westmoreland County had four deaths.

Since March, 23,319 Pennsylvanians have died from causes attributed to COVID-19.

There were no area counties with triple-digit increases in COVID-19 cases. Cambria County added 33 cases, Somerset and Bedford counties each added seven cases, Blair County added 13 cases, Indiana County added 12 cases, Clearfield County added 32 cases, Centre County added 27 cases and Westmoreland County added 47 cases.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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