On first full day of COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, teenagers take the plunge

The state estimates there’s roughly 40,000 young Alaskans in the newly eligible age group.

Lucy Wheat gets her first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine on Thursday, May 13, 2021 (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

Dr. Brad Cruz has given plenty of COVID-19 shots during the pandemic, but he had a challenge he hadn’t encountered before when Josephine Wheat sat down for her shot last week: She had a case of the giggles.

“Wait, wait, don’t do it yet, I need to calm down,” Wheat said, outside the Geneva Woods Birth Center in Anchorage.

Her sister Lucy rolled her eyes.

“It happens every time she has to get shots,” she said.

Finally she was still for a few seconds, and Cruz found a spot. Once the needle was out, the laughter resumed.

The scene would have been hard to imagine a few weeks ago. But it might become more common since the Pfizer vaccine was approved for children 12 to 15 on May 12.

Josephine, who is 12, was ready to get the vaccine on the first day. She hopes it will help her get her life back to normal.

“I’m going on a couple of soccer tournaments and we’re going to Costa Rica pretty soon. So the vaccine is great,” she said.

Lucy Wheat, who is 15, was also excited.

“I thought I was gonna have to wait till my birthday in July when I turned 16,” she said. “But I was really excited to get it earlier.”

12-year-old Juliet O’Connor shows off her vaccinated arm on May 13, 2021. (Matt Faubion/Alaska Public Media)

She said they don’t really have any friends who don’t want to get vaccinated.

“I think it’s more parents that don’t want their kids to get it, but I know that most of my friends have gotten it or are getting it soon,” she said.

Data isn’t yet available for how fast 12 to 15 year olds are getting vaccinated after the approved for the shots this week. The state estimates there’s roughly 40,000 young Alaskans in the age group.

They can get vaccinated at any clinic that offers the Pfizer vaccine.

The Geneva Woods Birth Center reached out to clients, many of whom had given birth there, to offer the vaccine to their kids. Business manager Claire Norton-Cruz said within a few hours of posting the offer on Facebook, they’d filled all 46 appointments.

For many — including parents — it was a momentous occasion.

Julee Farley brought her daughter Meredith Duhrsen to get the vaccine, and said it will make her whole family feel safer.

“I’m so happy everyone else in my house is vaccinated. So now we can feel a lot safer having her in the house vaccinated,” said Farley.

Duhrsen was supposed to go to school as a freshman at West High. But instead, she decided to stick to online Zoom classes this year because of the pandemic.

It’s hard to make friends, she said.

“Some people like online Zoom and kind of thing where you’re like, ‘Maybe we should hang out in person?’ And then it’s like, ‘Well, after we’re vaccinated,’” she said.

For brothers Trevor and Elliot Becke, the stakes are even higher.

With some family members who are at high risk for serious symptoms from COVID-19, they’ve also been forgoing in-person school.

“I think me and my brother went to a store for the first time, or at least for him, like a few weeks ago, after over a year. So we’ve been really keeping it low-key and not really going out,” said Trevor Becke.

He’s confident he’ll get back to school next year.

“Hopefully, if enough people get the vaccine, maybe things will go back to completely normal,” he said.

He still has to wait three weeks before getting a second shot — and then wait another two weeks before the vaccine reaches its full effectiveness. But, he said, having had one already makes things feel better.

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