Waco Montessori School sixth-grader Maggie Haskett was excited to learn that the COVID-19 vaccine was approved for children 12 and older two weeks ago.
She was not conflicted about whether she wanted to get the Pfizer doses and asked her parents when she could get vaccinated.
Of course, her lack of ambiguity likely can be attributed to her father, Dr. Richard Haskett, chief medical officer of Ascension Medical Group Waco. Maggie got her first shot on Wednesday.
“Maggie wants to get the shots,” Haskett said. “A number of her friends are getting it and she was asking when she could get it. We have it here at Providence and it makes sense she has the same passion I have about the vaccine to protect yourself, family, friends and others.”
Angelina Smith, 16, a sophomore at China Spring High School, also is looking forward to getting her second shot because her family is planning a summer trip to Spain, which requires visitors not vaccinated to quarantine before continuing their journey.
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Smith, who has not had the coronavirus, had to miss school to quarantine after her parents came down with COVID-19 in January. Her 14-year-old sister and 12-year-old brother were not infected with the virus and they also will be fully vaccinated soon, she said.
“My parents had COVID and they both have gotten their shots and they both got really sick, with fever and headaches, and they were in bed all day,” Smith said. “So I was a little nervous wondering if I would get sick, too. But it wasn’t bad. The needle was small and it didn’t feel like a shot. But my arm was sore.”
Chris Smith, Angelina’s father, said his family would have been vaccinated even if they weren’t traveling to Spain to visit his parents. However, the pharmaceutical salesman said those in his company’s office are evenly split on the vaccine.
“Some want to take it and some don’t,” he said. “I think, in the eyes of those who don’t want to take it, they think the vaccines were pushed through the approval process too quickly without knowing the full ramifications of it. I guess they feel it is too soon to know what can happen from taking the vaccine.”
According to Waco-McLennan County Public Health District figures, 368 children ages 12 to 15 have been vaccinated in the county. Countywide, 41% of those 12 and older, or 88,701 people, have had one dose and 33 percent, or 71,558, have been fully vaccinated.
While the vaccines are available at a number of locations in the county, including clinics and pharmacies, and are encouraged by school officials, there don’t seem to be consistent efforts to increase the number of young people getting the vaccine.
Traci Marlin, spokeswoman for Midway schools, said Midway officials, in cooperation with Walgreens, offered graduating seniors their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine a couple of weeks ago, with 45 out of a graduating class of 600 showing up on a Saturday to get the shot. It will be left to them to seek out a location to get their second shot, she said.
School officials have had multiple clinics for school staff members to get vaccinated, but have no current plans for another clinic for students, Marlin said.
“We are going to be encouraging vaccines for students and staff, but not mandating them,” she said. “We are a hub of information. We are a partner with the county and the task force for sharing information, but certainly, there is not an agenda or process where we would pressure anybody or mandate it.”
The vaccines will help avoid future quarantining of students and help battle what Marlin called the “COVID slide,” a decrease in learning efficiency caused by pandemic-related virtual classes at home.
“We do see in-person, face-to- face instruction is the most effective manner for nearly all children,” Marlin said. “We are doing what we can to keep the doors open and protect out children. We encourage vaccines, not necessarily in medical terms, but in educational terms. We encourage vaccines so teachers and students can be in school and do our business as usual.”
Spokesman Josh Wucher said Waco Independent School District officials are talking to “community partners” about how schools can increase the number of students ages 12 and up who get vaccinated.
“Given the tremendous support for schools from public health groups in Waco, we have no concerns that there will be ample opportunities to offer vaccines to eligible students,” Wucher said. “It’s certainly a good thing that more students are eligible to receive COVID vaccines. And while we don’t have any details about clinics to announce yet, we do encourage our families to get their students vaccinated.”
Angelina Smith’s China Spring classmate, Fatima Ramirez, 16, said she has not gotten the vaccine but plans to. She said she and her friends don’t talk much about the vaccine unless one who recently got a shot warns others not to bump her arm because it is sore, Ramirez said.
“I feel like, honestly, it is something that you can’t really force people to do,” she said. “But I think if you are up to it, for the safety of yourself and others, it would be a great thing to do. Honestly, it is not a topic that comes up very often. I feel like COVID is not going to disappear. It is something we are going to live with for a very long time, and we need to learn to adapt to it, learn to live with it, because life goes on.”
Ramirez and her mother both had COVID-19, with fever, soreness and loss of taste and smell. She said her mother was “hesitant” at first about the vaccines.
“She heard stories and was kind of worried that it would have side effects,” she said. “But then she thought for our safety and the safety of everyone else, we should get it.”
Haskett, of Ascension Medical Group, said he was pleased with the initial local response to the vaccine, thanks to multiple organizations in Waco that pulled together. He said he is pleased the age was lowered for those seeking vaccinations, but added he perceives a “sense of hesitancy” about the vaccines in Waco, like in other parts of the country. In turn, he said, those with hesitancy tend to pass that on to their children.
“I think the first thing is to listen,” Haskett said. “As a physician and as a member of the leadership at Ascension Providence, I do feel an extra responsibility to make sure I don’t offend people when they have a position that they hold strongly, even if I disagree.
“But I do think as more and more people get vaccines, the people who are hesitant are seeing that we are healthy and well and not having any side effects, other than a sore shoulder or an achy head, and it allows you to live your life more openly and securely. I don’t know if you can talk anybody in or out of their position. Ultimately, you have to give them a chance to get there by themselves, and I have faith that they will,” Haskett said.
The ultimate decision about children getting vaccines, obviously, lies with their parents.
“I would agree with that,” Haskett said. “Think about the numbers. Over 3.78 million children have been infected in this country today, and over 300 have died, and 22.4 percent of new COVID cases since the end of April have been children.
“I would agree that the older you are, the more likely it is that COVID will have a terrible impact and younger people are typically not as sick. But for those families whose children have been lost, that is a terrible price to pay.” Haskett said.
Vaccines mean a chance to go back to school, attend Friday night football games again and live more normal lives, Haskett said.
“People say ‘the new normal.’ I want normal and normal is getting vaccinated,” he said.
Waco-McLennan County Health District spokeswoman Kelly Craine urges anyone eligible for the vaccine to walk in and get one.
“What we know about the vaccine is that it is so effective that, if you have been fully vaccinated, you don’t have to quarantine if you are exposed to someone with COVID, and we now have new guidelines for masks. Giving the vaccines to teenagers is so important. It gives them some stability. Schools have had to close, they have had to quarantine, it has been very frustrating and this vaccine will give them and their parents important protection and stability.”