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Vaccinations Begin For Northeast Ohio Pre-Teens At Schools and Pharmacies

Tommy Wilds, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, flinches as he receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during an in-school clinic Friday, May 14, 2021. Young teens aged 12 to 15 are now getting the shot across Northeast Ohio. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]
Tommy Wilds, a 13-year-old seventh grader at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, flinches as he receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine during an in-school clinic Friday, May 14, 2021. Young teens aged 12 to 15 are now getting the shot across Northeast Ohio. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

A middle school library is usually a quiet place.

But after Ohio officials gave the green light for kids aged 12 to 15 to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, the library inside Edgewood Middle School in Wooster was abuzz with young teens lining up to get their first dose of the shot.

About 75 students who signed up for the vaccine were among the first adolescents in the state to get it.

“Getting the shot felt fine. It wasn’t scary or anything, but it also felt like a little bit of relief,” said 13-year-old Melia Brown, a seventh grader at Edgewood.

Visiting her grandparents and having sleepovers with her friends were at the top of her list of reasons for getting vaccinated, she said, but most important to her was feeling safer at home.

“My dad is a diabetic, so we’ve been having to be very careful with who we interact with and wearing masks and everything,” Brown said.

Melia Brown, a seventh grade student at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster, receives the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on May 14, 2021. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

Brown also missed both her twelfth and thirteenth birthday parties due to the pandemic, she added. She has big plans for when she turns 14 next year.

“I want to go to a trampoline park, and I would like to have a sleepover,” Brown said.

A simple plan - but one she has wanted for nearly two years since the pandemic began.

Tommy Wilds, another seventh grader, was excited to get the vaccine so he can be more social.

“Playing out with friends, having longer sports seasons, going to camps, stuff like that,” Wilds said. “Not many kids our age have gotten it, so I was a bit nervous, but I’m glad I got it.”

Other students were also nervous to get the shot, or didn’t want to get it at all.

Twelve-year-old Kiessa Davis, another seventh grader, said most of her friends weren’t planning to get the vaccine.

“They were kind of laughing at me because I was getting it,” Davis said. “No matter really what people say about it, it’s like, it’s a vaccination. It’s going to help me not catch COVID. So like, if you guys want to get sick, you guys can get sick, but I’m going to stay COVID free.” 

The Edgewood students received the shot as part of an in-school clinic facilitated by Akron Children’s Hospital.

The health system has held clinics in at least 20 schools across Northeast Ohio since 16-year-olds and up became eligible to receive the shot in Ohio back in March, said Michele Wilmoth, director of school health services for the hospital.

“We’ve done [clinics] in gyms, we’ve done it in a classroom, we’ve done it in a small clinic, we can do it as a drive-by, we can do whatever,” Wilmoth said. “We’re flexible, and every school environment is different.”

Nurses from the Akron Children's Hospital school vaccine team set up a clinic inside the Edgewood Middle School library in Wooster on May 14, 2021. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

The health system has run clinics in Akron Public Schools as well as suburban districts like Stow, Woodridge and Tallmadge.

The nurses are currently giving out second doses to high school students and offering first doses to younger high school students who are now eligible, Wilmoth added.

They’re also making stops at middle schools, such as Edgewood, and will continue hosting clinics into the summer, she said.

 “We need to go back to the district and try to catch up any others, and anybody else who's changed their mind, because we want to just be another option for families to come in an environment where they're familiar, where for many it's in walking distance, that they can come to school and get their vaccine,” Wilmoth said.

Area Hospitals Also Offering Vaccines For Young Teens

Adolescents can also schedule vaccine appointments at several hospitals, including Akron Children’s, Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals and MetroHealth, officials said.

Other schools in Northeast Ohio are partnering with pharmacies such as Giant Eagle to hold vaccine clinics specifically for students.

The Educational Service Center (ESC) of Northeast Ohio is coordinating pharmacy clinics with schools in Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Portage and Summit counties, said ESC's director of operations Jennifer Dodd.

“We’re going to start with in-stores,” Dodd said. “We may look a couple of in-district clinics if the numbers warrant it.” 

It is more efficient to plan clinics in pharmacies that serve multiple school districts, Dodd added, because turnout for the vaccine has been relatively low thus far for kids aged 16 and up.

Mass vaccination in the school environment may not be the most effective way to go now, Dodd said.

Turnout Differs Depending On The School District

Wilmoth at Akron Children’s said there has been significant interest in some schools they serve, while not as much at others.

At a recent clinic at Firestone Community Learning Center, a high school in Akron, 17-year-old senior Jazmin Harvey said she was nervous about getting her second dose.

“I think everyone is pretty nervous. We don’t really know, because it was developed so quickly, so we’re not sure if it’s actually going to work, or if in a few years, we’re going to get one of those commercials, like, ‘if you ever had the vaccine, just call this number,’” Harvey said. “We’re just a little bit nervous about what’s to come.”

Firestone Community Learning Center senior Jazmin Harvey poses with her COVID-19 vaccination card after receiving the shot during an in-school clinic May 12, 2021. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

After receiving the shot, though, Harvey felt much calmer, she said. She decided to get vaccinated because she wants to hang out with her friends more and feel safer when she heads off to college, she said.

“I feel settled, if that makes sense,” Harvey said. “Just eased about all the craziness that’s going on. It’s pretty chaotic, so I’m just happy that I’m covered and that I know that I’m safe at this point, moving forward.”

Firestone senior Clay Peets also received his second dose at the in-school clinic. He was not nervous to get the shot, he said, and was even encouraging his 14-year-old younger brother to get the vaccine now that he is also eligible.

“I think the younger kids should get it as well,” Peets said. “Even if you’re at that age, I know your immune system is pretty strong, but you don’t want to take anything for granted.”

Some Parents Worry About The Safety Of The Shot

Throughout Akron Children’s clinics, some students have declined due to skepticism or uncertainty about the vaccine, and kids have expressed concerns to the nurses that the COVID-19 vaccines were developed too quickly, Wilmoth said.

“We go back to the science and talk about how … it actually wasn't rushed; it's just that we had plenty of resources and government support enabled to do the same scientific process for developing the vaccine that we always had,” she said.

Twelve-year-old Kiessa Brown shows off her COVID-19 vaccine card at an in-school clinic at Edgewood Middle School in Wooster. Davis said some of her friends are hesitant about getting the shot. [Anna Huntsman / ideastream]

Still, most kids are less nervous about the vaccine itself and more scared of getting shots in general, Wilmoth added.

Hospital officials are also fielding many questions from parents about the safety of the vaccine in children, said Dr. Mike Bigham, chief quality officer at Akron Children’s.

“Unfortunately, because the vaccine is relatively new, we can't answer the questions like, ‘what might happen to my child three years from now?’ … We're very honest about the fact that we can't answer those questions,” Bigham said.

“I often get asked the question, ‘what would you do if it were your child?’ … And what I've shared when I'm asked that question is, I've got a 16-year-old son, and we've chosen to get him vaccinated and we're really happy with that decision. I made that decision based on my understanding of the science and based on what our family believes is the right thing for our son,” Bigham added.

In clinical trials, the vaccine was deemed safe and 100 percent effective in adolescents, according to a news release from Pfizer.

Adolescents are a big piece of the puzzle to reaching an end in the pandemic, Bigham said, because while they typically do not report severe outcomes from COVID-19, but they can spread it to more vulnerable people, and there are also concerns with some of the long-haul symptoms of COVID-19 in young adults.


anna.huntsman@ideastream.org | 216-916-6058