Alaska’s first day vaccinating younger children against COVID-19 brought relief, candy and just a few tears Wednesday in Anchorage.
Children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible to receive a kid-sized dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine, which has been widely available in adult-sized doses for months in Alaska.
Parents expressed relief that some of their youngest household members could now receive a dose, and they shared excitement over the potential for visits with grandparents and more peace of mind as they send their children back to in-person schooling.
Among kids, there was anticipation and fear, a few tears and some laughter. One child wore a princess dress and another held a small, white stuffed animal as they received the vaccine. Siblings encouraged one another and post-shot doughnuts were promised.
At the Anchorage School District Education Center, parents and their children lined up at noon, a full two hours before the clinic was set to start giving shots, said Jennifer Patronas, director of health services for the district.
“That was actually nice to see that people were really anxious and ready to get the vaccine,” she said while the frenetic clinic was underway.
The school district had 500 pediatric doses to administer Wednesday, representing just a small fraction of the 73,000 or so Alaska children newly eligible for the vaccine. Not all are likely to be vaccinated immediately: A recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll showed that about a third of parents surveyed would wait to see how the shot is working while a third said they will not get it.
Vaccinating younger children is important to slowing the spread of COVID-19, health officials say, because although children often have mild experiences with the disease, they can still spread the virus just like adults can.
On a public health video call Wednesday, the state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said data shows vaccines are just as effective if not more effective than car seats.
“So, they’re not perfect, car seats aren’t perfect either,” Zink said. “But we buckle up our kids when we put them in the car, and these (vaccines) are an amazing tool to help minimize the risks to our children overall.”
‘A huge relief’
Jessica Guess and her three children, Reese, 7, Emma, 8 and Grayson, 10, approached the front of the line at the district building Wednesday afternoon. Guess had been volunteering at their school earlier in the day when a principal told her to take them out of school to get the shot.
They were excited to visit Florida to see grandparents and perhaps make a trip to Disney World.
[CDC finds immunity from vaccines is more consistent than from infection, but both last at least six months]
Farther back, Lindsay Huckabee, 32, her mother Susan Huckabee, 62, and daughter Claire Huckabee, 5, all stood in line together. Claire was wearing a Princess Anna dress — from the movie “Frozen” — that she had recently been gifted for her 5th birthday.
Claire “just turned 5 and to us, it’s like a miracle,” Susan Huckabee said of the vaccine. Her 86-year-old mother lives with Lindsay and Claire across the street from her.
While receiving the shot, Claire sat in her mom’s lap. Afterward, Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop stopped by to congratulate Claire and offer her a piece of candy before the group headed off to their 15-minute post-vaccination waiting period.
“It’s kind of surreal but also, like, a huge relief too,” Lindsay Huckabee said of her daughter’s vaccination.
Logan Gamache, 8, was playing a game on a phone and said he didn’t even feel the shot when he received it.
His mom, Natasha Gamache, 40, was sitting next to him while they waited the allotted 15 minutes after vaccination. The vaccine means a lot to them. He’s the last of her six children to get vaccinated.
“We’re homeless, so we’re staying at a shelter,” Gamache said. “And this vaccine is really important for us because we’re at an increased risk of contracting it. So this is a big deal, this is a big day for us.”
Once Logan is fully vaccinated, they’ll try to get him back into in-person schooling — he’s been home-schooled since the start of the pandemic because he’s susceptible to pneumonia, Gamache said. Logan is a special-education student, which means he hasn’t been receiving those services, his mom said.
But Logan can catch up. Gamache said she’s been more concerned about everyone staying healthy.
“Our primary goal these last however many months has been, just don’t die,” Gamache said.
‘What? That was it? That’s crazy!’
At Tikahtnu Commons, a vaccine clinic also hummed along, though with considerably less traffic than the school district’s clinic.
“I’m not going to say they’re better than adults, but they’re pretty resilient. And they’re excited,” said Ivy Delaney, who was vaccinating children at the clinic.
The clinic had superhero bandages to distribute and providers were using a small, spiky piece of plastic meant to displace the poke of the actual shot.
“They’re shocked that they can’t really feel it,” Delaney said of kids getting the shot. “They’re like, ‘What? That was it? That’s crazy!’ ”
Jake Jeppesen, 6, wearing a Marvel T-shirt — his favorite Marvel hero is Green Lantern — was a little nervous while he waited for the shot. But the potential for doughnuts waited on the other side of the shot, promised by his mom, Julie Jeppesen.
Jake’s sister, Lilly, 10, was also a little nervous but approached the table to receive the shot. The three held hands together.
“I know it’s a little scary, but it’s worth it,” their mom said as she listed family members, including their grandparents, who had all gotten the vaccine already.
Jake asked how much it was going to hurt, and the nurse told him it’d be just like a pinch. He asked to wait a bit, to which his mom said no — it’s better to just get it over with. He asked Lilly whether it really hurt.
He took a little coaxing before sitting in his mom’s lap and getting the shot. Afterward, he said it hurt less than he was expecting, maybe even less than a flu shot.
Jake said he was most looking forward to going back to the pool with his friends. Lilly said she was looking forward to a sleepover, once they’re fully vaccinated.
Julie Jeppesen said their family has been really careful, only going on walks outside as COVID-19 numbers have been so high lately. So, the vaccine means the kids might get to see their grandma and friends again.
“We trust science,” Jeppesen said.
“We trust that they researched and that they’re not going to approve it until it’s really ready,” she added. “Yeah, we’re just getting it done, taking care of business.”