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COVID-19 Vaccines Roll Out for Young Children in NYC, Early-Bird Families All Smiles

By Asher Lehrer-Small | November 6, 2021

Anderson Bloxham, 7, and Isla Bloxham, 11, outside the Brooklyn Children’s Museum after receiving the first shot of the coronavirus vaccine. Isla plans to donate some of the $100 that NYC gives as an incentive after the first dose — but she’ll use the other part to buy Heelys, she said. (Marianna McMurdock)

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Brooklyn 10-year old Freya Graff did not mince words describing how she felt after receiving her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine Friday morning.

“Happy, excited,” she said, throwing her arms up to celebrate.

Her 5-year old sister, Mayari, who also got the shot, jumped in a circle to show off her “happy vaccine dance” outside the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, where both siblings got immunized.

Then the sisters, hand in hand with their father, skipped down the street back to their car.

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Days after Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gave the final sign-off late Tuesday night to Pfizer-BioNTech’s pediatric coronavirus vaccine for use in children ages 5 to 11, shots are now rolling out and kids are — gleefully — pushing up their sleeves.

Mayari Graff shows off her “happy vaccine dance,” as her dad and sister look on. (Marianna McMurdock)

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum, located in the borough’s Crown Heights neighborhood, is one of thousands of New York City locations to offer pediatric shots. Before the site’s 9 a.m opening, a modest line of roughly a dozen parents and children gathered by the front doors. A larger crowd came for shots afterschool on Thursday, when the museum first had doses available for the age group.

“It’s emotional,” said Kira Halevy, who was bringing her 6- and 8-year-old boys to get immunized. The pandemic has taken up about a quarter of her younger son’s lifetime, and the family jumped at the first opportunity to vaccinate their kids. 

“We’ve been waiting for this,” she said.

Leading up to the shots, her family used the event as a real-world lesson in biology and medicine, explaining the mechanics of the doses.

“The first shot tells your body what corona is,” recited Zeke, Halevy’s older son. “The second shot is telling your body how to fight it.” 

Kobi Halevy, Zeke’s younger brother, with the fidget spinner he received post-shot. (Marianna McMurdock)

In New York City, nearly 4 in 5 children ages 12 to 17 have been vaccinated, well above the 58 percent national rate reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics for that group. 

Now with shots available for the younger age group, a speedy and thorough rollout could significantly lower COVID’s hospitalization and death toll in the U.S. over the coming months and dull the impact of future variants, according to recent simulations. Polling indicates, however, that a quarter of parents nationwide will “definitely not” vaccinate their kids and others will “wait and see.” 

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But the early-bird crowd on Friday was gung-ho.

“I was literally jumping up and down,” said Jenna Sternbach, describing the feeling when she received the email telling her she could sign her 11-year-old daughter Adlai up for a vaccine appointment. Now, having received the first dose and with a second soon to come, Adlai will soon be able to play soccer without a mask, which she looks forward to. 

The elder Halevy son, Zeke, can see himself very soon back at his friends’ houses, trading  Pokemon cards, he said.

And Wesley Francois, 15, who has been eligible for vaccines since the spring but was finally persuaded to receive the shot by a requirement for his basketball team, was excited to soon be able to ease up on masking.

“I’ll be a little more free,” he told The 74.

Plus, the pain was only a 1 on a scale of 1 to 5, Mateo Vasquez, 7, estimated after his shot.

Wesley Francois, 15, with his mother Tiffany Grinnage. (Marianna McMurdock)

The nation’s largest school district is doing its part to encourage the vaccination effort. On Monday, New York City officials are setting up pop-up vaccine clinics at more than 1,000 elementary school sites across the five boroughs.

Efforts to boost accessibility to the shots is key, said pediatrician Maria Molina, who practices in Manhattan and the Bronx.

“Now that we have a vaccine,” she told The 74, “we have to make sure that every child has the same opportunity to get it.”

That extends to cultural factors as well, she noted. “I not only share the language of my patients, but I share the culture,” said Molina, who immigrated to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic and is now a member of SOMOS Community Care, a network of city health providers from diverse linguistic backgrounds. “It’s coming from someone who looks similar to them.”

The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is administering Pfizer’s pediatric coronavirus doses to children ages 5 to 11. (Marianna McMurdock)

The city has extended its $100 incentive for new vaccine recipients to youngsters as well, including those who receive shots at school. After first doses, families will receive an email explaining how to select between a prepaid $100 debit card, tickets to sporting events  or other perks.

“We really want kids to take advantage, families to take advantage of that,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Young folks told The 74 that they had wide-ranging plans for their newfound cash: some planning to save or donate it to school fundraisers sending holiday gifts abroad, others are planning to splurge on the aforementioned Pokemon cards or Heelys sneakers, which come with wheels in the sole.

The mayor has not stipulated whether there is a student vaccination threshold at which schools would drop universal masking rules for the classroom — a move made by at least a dozen major districts across the country in recent weeks, with mixed opinions from health experts.

Parents at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum vaccination site on Friday said that they would prefer schools wait to scrap mask mandates until vaccination rates reach as many as 90 percent of students. 

“We’d rather have any form of protection,” said Kira Halevy.

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Elsewhere in the U.S., Chicago Public Schools announced Thursday that it will cancel school Friday, Nov. 12 for the nation’s first “Vaccine Awareness Day” in an effort to boost immunization rates.

It’s an “opportunity for parents and guardians to take their children five years of age and older to get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office, at a healthcare provider, or at a CPS school-based site or community vaccination event,” schools CEO Pedro Martinez wrote to parents.

For those wary of vaccination, other effective safety measures against the virus may soon be on the way. Pfizer announced Friday that their new antiviral pill cuts the risk of COVID hospitalization or death by 89 percent in vulnerable adults. That development, alongside President Joe Biden’s recently announced vaccine mandate deadlines for large workplaces, led Pfizer board member Scott Gottlieb to tell CNBC on Friday that the pandemic “may well be over” by early January. Other health experts have their doubts, citing the possibility of new mutations of the virus.

Winona Winkel, 9, is excited to hug her friends when she’s fully vaccinated. (Marianna McMurdock)

Back in Brooklyn, Winona Winkel, 9, got her first vaccine dose Friday and is already counting the days to her second. 

“Then I can hug my friends,” she said. 

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