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Up to one-fifth of Northland Workforce Training Center students may refuse COVID vaccine

Mike Desmond
Northland Workforce Training Center may lose up to one-fifth of its expected students over SUNY's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Northland Workforce Training Center officials say they may lose up to one-fifth of their students over SUNY’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The Buffalo manufacturing and clean energy school expected to have about 312 students this semester, but roughly 60 have either dropped out or not shown up because of the state’s mandate that students receive at least one dose of the vaccine by Sept. 27.

“We believe we've lost probably 30 incoming students out of about 180, and about 30 returning students out of about 150,” President and CEO Stephen Tucker told WBFO Thursday. “Those numbers aren't final yet because I believe they have until the 27th to get vaccinated.”

The center, which opened in 2018, trains workers for the thousands of jobs opening up in the area, as retirements occur and newer high-tech positions are created. It's run in cooperation with Alfred State College and Erie Community College.

The Erie County Department of Health ran a vaccine clinic at Northland Thursday for both students and the community.

Student Eric Shaffer was there getting his first shot. He said he was only getting vaccinated because he wants a high-paid career as a pipeline welder after graduating Northland. His request for a religious exemption failed.

“Immunizations in general, I've been against since I was a kid,” he said. “When it comes down to mandatorily taking it, I believe that anybody who has previous health conditions or of an elderly age above 35, I would say, should most definitely get the vaccine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 12 and older get vaccinated to protect against potentially severe complications from COVID-19.

Student Andrea DeBerry was at the clinic getting her second shot. She said while she has to be vaccinated to attend school, she has mixed feelings if the shots become available for her 6-year-old daughter.

“With them doing it for the ages 12 and up and just putting that out there, I would like to see how that goes a little bit further,” she said. “And then once they have it out there for the younger crowd, I would like to let that one expand out there a little bit before I have my 6-year-old do it. That one, I'm kind of skeptical on, but she is in school.”

Pfizer and BioNTech said this week that early results of their trial indicate their vaccine is safe for children ages 5 to 11, and establishes a strong antibody response against the virus.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.