It took just a couple of seconds for a nurse to administer the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine into Sadie Sindland’s arm.
Getting vaccinated has been a hot topic lately with 14-year-old Sindland and her friends.
“We actually talk about it a lot, because some of the upperclassmen in our school are fully vaccinated,” she said. “And I know that all of my friends are getting the vaccine and they’re looking forward to getting it. I was the first one out of everybody in my friend group.”
These Connecticut adolescents 12 through 15 years old and their families were quick to get in line for COVID-19 vaccines Thursday after a federal advisory panel’s approval Wednesday night.
Health experts hope vaccinating children and teens will reduce overall community transmission of the coronavirus, while parents and families see it as an opportunity to get back to some kind of normal.
“We all thought that the vaccine for people in my age group would come out later,” Sindland said as she waited for her mother at Hartford HealthCare’s vaccine clinic in the Connecticut Convention Center. “So I’m really happy it’s coming out before the summer.”
Of the three brands of COVID-19 vaccines currently available, the Pfizer-BioNTech two-dose shot is the only one authorized for use in minors. Federal agencies have found that the vaccine is safe and effective for this latest age group.
Most children and teens haven experienced less severe illness from the coronavirus. A small percentage of them have developed a serious inflammatory syndrome, but those cases are rare.
“But why take that chance?” asked Dr. Juan Salazar, pediatrician and physician-in-chief at Connecticut Children’s. “Why take the chance that your kid will lose his sense of taste or smell, that may have a severe headache, that may not be able to do the things that they normally do, and that may have long-term consequence with this virus, so why not prevent that?”
Children can also unknowingly spread the virus to others, added Dr. Jody Terranova, pediatrician and president-elect of the Connecticut Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“This is a very important age group to vaccinate, because they are ones that really want to socialize again, and they are still going to carry and spread it,” she said, “so this can really have a huge impact on reducing the amount of COVID in the community.”
Getting a COVID-19 vaccine was just a matter of when and where for Max Zito and his mother, Allison Zito, who live in West Hartford. They said almost their entire family has been vaccinated at this point.
“It’s better than not getting the shot, because if you’re getting the shot, you’re going to be able to do more stuff and go more places and more things will be open to you and opportunities,” said the 13-year-old. “Whereas if you don’t have the shot, it’s not going to be as likely that you’ll do those things and be safe.”
For Max, he’s looking forward to getting back to competitive mountain bike racing, as events have been canceled this past year due to the pandemic.
“I feel better, too, sending him to camp,” Allison said, “or we’re doing a lake house with my parents in New Hampshire and they’re in their 70s, so just being able to all stay in one house and not feel like he’s the weak link, because you know he’s in school all day with hundreds of kids and … it’s nerve-wracking, so I think it makes me feel a lot better.”
Reem Nouh said her family has been discussing vaccines since the very beginning -- her husband is an OR nurse and was in the first wave of vaccinations for health care workers. Now she’s vaccinated, too, which just leaves their kids.
Nouh, whose family lives in Simsbury, watched as her 13-year-old daughter Sara Omar got dose one of the Pfizer vaccine Thursday.
“Today’s the first day of Eid [al-Fitr] -- we are Muslim -- and I think this is the best Eid gift she could receive,” Nouh said. “Her brother is 7, he’s here to cheer her on, but he really wanted the vaccine, too. And he’s upset he can’t get it, but I explained it has to get approved for his age group.”
Clinical trials in younger children are ongoing. Health experts say eligibility could open up as early as this fall.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommended this week that COVID-19 vaccines can be given, or “co-administered,” with other routine childhood vaccines in the same visit.
Salazar said going forward, this will make it easier for families to get more of their health care needs met in a single trip or appointment, rather than having to make multiple visits for different vaccines.
“As they’re coming in for their COVID-19 vaccine, if they’re going eventually to a pediatrician -- we don’t have them there yet -- they should get other vaccines to catch up,” he said. “We have seen a marked decrease in [routine] vaccinations that are typically used for that [child] population because of COVID.”
Hartford HealthCare officials added that minors will need a parent or guardian to be present while they get their COVID-19 shot. They said the health organization is looking to partner with schools and communities to host vaccination clinics on weekdays, weekends and during evening hours.