Hugs with your friends. Birthday parties indoors. Pillow fights. These are the things that schoolchildren look forward to when the United States enters a new phase of fighting the pandemic.
After more than 18 months of sickness, deaths, and disruptions to education, health officials hail shots for children ages 5-11 as a breakthrough.
Two final hurdles were cleared Tuesday by kid-sized doses for the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine. This was a recommendation from CDC advisors followed by a green signal from Dr. Rochelle Wilensky, director at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Mackenzie Olson, 10, took off her black leather jacket at a Decatur, Georgia pediatrician's office and pulled up her sleeves as her mother watched.
"I don't see my friends the way that I want, but I do see them." Mackenzie, after receiving her shot at Children's Medical Group, said that she wants to hug her friends, play games with them, and have a pillow fight.
The federal government promised enough vaccine to protect the nation’s 28 million children in this age group. Pediatricians and hospitals started inoculating children. Schools, pharmacies, and other locations will follow the lead in the coming days.
Many locations witnessed a festive atmosphere at the launch of shots for elementary school students. California vaccine sites opened their doors to children with inflatable animals, and gave out coloring books and prizes. At an Atlanta location, vehicles lined up before dawn.
Although many pediatricians expected high interest initially, health officials worry about the decline in demand. The Kaiser Family Foundation polled almost two-thirds (65%) of parents who were recently surveyed and said that they would not wait to get vaccines for their children.
Brian Giglio (40), from Alexandria, Virginia brought Carter, his 8-year old son, to Children's National Hospital in Washington for vaccination. There, children with underlying conditions get first dibs. Carter is at high risk of complications from Type 1 diabetes.
Giglio stated that the vaccine was "like a corridor pass for us to start living life again." Carter also said that he cannot wait to get rid of his masks once he is fully vaccinated so he can still smell the things he used be able to without them.
He said that he was ready to throw it away, but the CDC recommends wearing masks in public places where there is high virus activity, including schools.
Cate Zeigler Amon (10 years old) was the first to line up Wednesday morning for a drive-through vaccine at Viral Solutions, Atlanta. Before the shot, the girl bounced enthusiastically around in the car. She broadcast the live broadcast on her computer during school morning announcements.
Cate stated that she looked forward to hugging her friends, and celebrating her birthday indoors instead of spending the day outside in freezing temperatures.
Seven children were vaccinated Tuesday night at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut, just minutes after the CDC director approved the vaccine. Three more children were vaccinated on Wednesday morning. One girl closed her eyes and one boy barely opened his mouth as they received their shots. Other waiting children applauded.
Two doses of the vaccine, one-third of which is given to older children and adults, and administered using kid-sized needles, are required. Additional two weeks are needed for full protection. This means that children who are vaccinated by Thanksgiving will be covered at Christmas.
Dr. Jennifer Shu, Children's Medical Group's Decatur, Georgia office, said that the timing of winter holidays was very lucky. She began vaccinating Wednesday morning. "This age group will have more safety than ever before since the outbreak of the pandemic and can spend holidays with their families and friends."
Pfizer started shipments shortly after Friday's emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration. Pfizer stated that it anticipates making 19,000 shipments totaling approximately 11 million doses over the next few days and millions more on a weekly basis.
Authorities stated that they expected a smooth rollout unlike the chaotic one for adults almost a year ago.
When asked about parents' difficulty finding vaccination appointments, White House Coronavirus Coordinator Jeff Zients stated that the vaccines.gov website would be updated by Friday so parents can search for nearby locations. As Pfizer continues to deliver millions of doses to various locations across the country, he said that the kid vaccination campaign would be running at full speed next week.
He said that more than 6,000 vaccination clinics were being planned in schools across the country ahead of the winter holiday break.
Walgreens said that they would start children's vaccinations Saturday. Parents could sign up online, or call 1-800-Walgreens. Starting Sunday, CVS will also accept appointments online and at selected pharmacies by phone.
Even though there is initial excitement, not everyone rushes to get the shots.
Hannah Hause, a Colorado mom of four children, is currently vaccinated but would like to study the effects on the wider population.
It's not something you can do long-term. She said it makes her nervous. "As long I can wait, it will be a while," she said.
Walensky stated Wednesday that authorities had thoroughly reviewed all data available on the vaccine's safety and effectiveness before recommending shots to children.
Dr. Ada Stewart is a Columbia-based Black family physician and the past president of American Academy of Family Physicians. She said that she has seen the effects of the virus on children younger than her, not only in the form of family illness and death, but also in school disruptions, dropping grades, and mental strain.
According to data presented Tuesday to CDC advisers, school closures during the pandemic have disproportionately affected children of color, increasing academic gaps, and worsening mental illness. In the first two months, it showed that there were more than 2,000 COVID school closures.
Pfizer's study of 2,268 children showed that the vaccine was nearly 91% effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms. The shots were safe according to the FDA after they were administered to 3,100 children.
Skeptics question the necessity of children being vaccinated, as they are less likely to contract severe COVID-19 than adults. At a White House briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci stated that the delta variant transmits "just as easily as adults" and they can get infected.
Children infected with the virus have also contributed to the U.S. death toll of almost 46 million infections and 740,000 deaths.
At least 94 children aged 5-11 years old have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak. More than 8,300 have been admitted to hospital and more than 5,000 have contracted a severe inflammatory condition due to the coronavirus. Children of color, Latinos and people with chronic conditions are the most severely affected.
Kye'vontay Jordan (7 years old), is Black and has diabetes. He received his shot at Children's National Hospital, Washington. His dad was able to rest easy with the vaccine.
Brian Jordan said, "Now I can rest without worrying about him going back to school." "He could be seriously affected by the coronavirus and it could cause him to have a heart attack."