Sanford Health vaccinates first kids 5-11 against COVID

To these kids, vaccination means more fun, more normalcy, even wishes come true

A 10-year-old boy displays his COVID-19 vaccine sticker chart showing he has one more dose to go. His mom, who is a doctor, and sister and brother are nearby in the exam room.

When the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommended on Nov. 2 that children 5 to 11 years be vaccinated, it meant 28 million children in the United States were eligible to get the children’s dosage of the Pfizer vaccine.

It will set them on a path, two weeks after their second shot, to the same level of protection from COVID-19 that is available to adults.

Find a COVID-19 vaccine: Vaccination events at Sanford Health

Elizabeth Bauer, M.D., is a pediatrician at the Sanford Health 26th & Sycamore Clinic in Sioux Falls. On the first day the vaccine was available to children, Bauer’s kids were getting their first shot.

For those looking for assurances from primary providers that the vaccine is safe for children, the gesture was about as strong an endorsement as one could get.

“Without the vaccine, I don’t think the question is if my kids will get COVID, but when they will get COVID,” Dr. Bauer said. “Having a vaccine that’s very effective at protecting them from severe COVID illness and reducing the likelihood that they would give COVID to somebody more vulnerable is an opportunity that we’re really excited to have in front of us.”

Safe household

At the same location, Sarah Prenger’s 8-year-old son Drew was getting his first COVID-19 vaccine. Leading up to vaccination day, Prenger, system executive director for primary care and behavioral health services, talked with him about getting the shot.

That conversation included a review of the vaccine’s importance. She went on to ask whether he was nervous about getting the shot and whether he wanted to receive it in his arm or his leg.

Prenger said it also included this exchange:

Mom: Would you like me to hold your hand when you’re getting your shot?

Son: No way!

With that issue resolved, Drew was a very willing participant. The Prengers then became a fully vaccinated household.

“We’ve been waiting and waiting for this day,” Prenger said. “Drew has been super excited to get his COVID shot. He is the only one in the family that hasn’t been able to get it. And so we’ve had one of us, even though the rest of us are vaccinated, who would maybe bring it home.”

For Drew’s part, the ultimate motivation was about getting things back to normal. Summoning the courage to get the shot was easy — he doesn’t get too worked up about that kind of thing, he says — but he wanted do his part to end the pandemic and the persistent inconveniences that come with it for third-graders.

“When I was in first grade, I got close contact and I hated it,” Drew said. “I had to wear a mask in gym and outside — I couldn’t take it off. Now that I’m getting the COVID vaccine, I’m not going to have to worry about getting COVID as much as I would if I wasn’t wearing a mask at school and had done nothing to treat the COVID.”

Return to the mat

For Brody Holzer, getting vaccinated was nothing short of a gateway to a more active life. The 8-year-old wrestler was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two years ago and has impressively persevered since then, not letting the disease get in the way of being a kid.

COVID-19 added another layer to his obstacles, but the vaccine has helped take it away. Brody can go back to his sports.

“I’m very excited to be able to wrestle this year since I got my vaccine,” he said. “I’m a Type 1 diabetic — this way I’m protecting myself and keeping myself safe.”

Jenny Holzer is Brody’s mom and works as a clinic manager at Sanford Health Mitchell. After she and Brody’s dad were vaccinated, Brody wondered when he’d get his turn. The good news finally came on that count.

“I want to help protect my family and friends,” he said.

Getting back to normal

Dr. Bauer’s son Max, age 10, remembered more normal times, too. Like Drew Prenger, he’d like to see those days return.

“I’m really excited because I want to do all those things again — when we don’t have to wear masks and we can go places and do whatever we want,” he said. “I wanted to get the shot so I can keep myself and my friends and my family safe.”

Jill Olson, M.D., a Sanford pediatrician in Bemidji, Minnesota, gave her children the vaccine. For months, both as a doctor and a mother, she had researched a COVID-19 vaccination for children. When it received a CDC recommendation, she felt a sense of relief.

“The difference with this pandemic is that I can’t leave work at work,” Dr. Olson said. “It comes home with me because COVID-19 is everywhere. It’s stressful to me that I can’t protect my children. Now that we have the vaccine to do that, I’m so happy.”

For the team

Two of Bill and Jill Gassen’s five children qualified for the new vaccine recommendation. The Sanford Health president and CEO’s kids received their first shots shortly thereafter, attaching a strong “team theme” to the visit.

“It’s a way to protect our children from COVID and it’s a way to protect our family in general,” Jill said. “We have a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old who can’t yet get the vaccine. This gives us a way of protecting them, as well as other family and friends in our community who can’t get the vaccine. We want to be healthy for everybody and do our part.”

Like so many other families with youngsters, the Gassens first investigated the vaccine’s safety. They read, they listened, and then they acted.

“There has been some bad publicity and false reports out there,” Jill said. “As a parent you’re a little hesitant because these are your children and you want to protect them. So you do your reading and you talk to your doctor. They’ve done their research and the research has proven it’s effective and safe for these children. You need to really trust your providers and trust your health care team.”

Fired up about the vaccine

Melissa Horner, M.D., a pediatrician in Fargo, kept her children informed about the possibility they’d eventually have access to a vaccine. While some kids are apprehensive about getting any kind of a shot, Dr. Horner’s children were looking forward to it.

“They were excited when the CDC approved it Tuesday night,” Dr. Horner said. “When I picked them up from school on Wednesday they were very disappointed when I said ‘I’m sorry but we can’t do it until tomorrow.’ They have anxiously been awaiting this. I’m happy to have that first dose in.”

Her children Stella (11), Scarlett (9) and Vienna (6) all received the vaccine, as promised, the next day. There are probably not a lot of 11-year-olds who count getting vaccinated for COVID-19 as a Christmas gift, but Stella had the proof.

“I put it on my list a long time ago when I started making out my Christmas list for this year and I was really excited when I heard we could get it when it was approved,” Stella said. “I’ve been excited all day. The day has been going on pretty slow because I’ve been excited.”

That level of vaccine love may not be typical of all 11-year-olds, but it is heartening for pediatricians who have been taking the pandemic home with them for too long.

“If you have questions about the vaccine or have hesitations, that’s understandable,” said Stephanie Hanson, M.D., a Sanford pediatrician in Fargo. “As a parent we want what is best for our kids. I really encourage people to reach out to their trusted pediatrician to help get solid answers to those questions.”

How to get children vaccinated

Those seeking COVID-19 vaccination for their children can log into My Sanford Chart. Select “Visits” in the header and then click the “Schedule an appointment” button. You will see an option to schedule a COVID-19 and flu vaccination.

COVID-19 vaccines are offered without an appointment at select locations. Sanford strongly encourages you to schedule a vaccination through My Sanford Chart or by calling (877) 701-0779.

Information in this article was accurate when it was posted. As the COVID-19 pandemic changes, scientific understanding and guidelines may have changed since the original publication date.

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Posted In Bemidji, Children's, Coronavirus, Fargo, Immunizations, Mitchell, Sioux Falls

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