Tears, joy as first young kids receive COVID-19 doses at Mall of America

There were a few tears and a whole lot of joy at the Mall of

There were a few tears and a whole lot of joy at the Mall of America Wednesday as some of Minnesota’s youngest residents got their first COVID-19 vaccines. The shots, tailor-made for children, are now available for kids 5-to-11 years old after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine for this age group earlier this week.

Colorful balloon arches welcomed kids and parents, who took selfies with their ‘I Got My Shot’ stickers.

Laura Taken-Holtze brought her five-year-old daughter, Regina who proudly displayed her Frozen-themed Band-aid she got to pick out after getting her shot.

It was a huge day for their family.

“It’s amazing. I kind of want to cry. I’m so excited,” said Taken-Holtze. Regina has been hospitalized a couple of times for breathing issues, so getting the shot “is a huge relief,” said her mom.

Other parents expressed similar emotions, saying the milestone feels like the beginning of the end of the virus ordeal.

A parent and child pose near a sign about getting vaccinated.

Laura Taken-Holtz and her daughter Regina Taken-Holtz, 5, pose for a photo after Regina received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Mall of America.

Nicole Neri for MPR News

For parents who are trying to book a vaccine appointment, here’s what to expect going forward.

How much vaccine does Minnesota have for kids in the 5-11 age group?

State officials say they’ve already gotten a lot of vaccine shipped in and that they will be getting more shipments through the weekend. They estimate they will have total of around 255,000 doses just in this first week or so — enough to cover about half the kids in this age group in Minnesota.

This won’t be a situation like we saw in the spring where you had to wake up at odd hours to look for online appointments.

The limiting factor will really be labor — are there enough people to give shots? The state says that more than 1,000 providers will be involved in this effort — and that includes places that kids normally go like schools. The site at the Mall of America will be doing about 1500 shots daily once it’s running at full capacity.

Pharmacies are accepting appointments starting this weekend.

And large healthcare systems around the state like Mayo, Fairview, and HealthPartners have begun taking appointments that will start later this week and into next week.

Some parents may not rush to get their kids vaccinated. How are state officials addressing safety concerns?

The first thing to know is that the data overwhelmingly show that this vaccine is safe and effective, and side effects are very mild. It’s not just good at preventing serious illness in kids, its also very good at preventing any illness at all.

But doctors who spoke at the Mall of America Wednesday said it’s perfectly reasonable for parents to have questions — and they should ask their child’s doctor if they do. The state has created a website, too to answer questions.

The physicians also pushed back on the idea that kids don’t get gravely ill from the virus.

Nationally, the virus has affected thousands of children,” said Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, a pediatrician and the President of of the Minnesota Academy of Pediatrics.

“Over 6 million children and youth in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19 — over 150,000 in Minnesota alone, with more than 8000 children in that 5- to 11-year-old range being hospitalized with COVID-19 around the country,” he said. “Sadly, over 500 children and youth have died from COVID-19.”

Health experts also say getting this vaccine will let kids return to their normal lives — potentially, unmasked and without worries of quarantines if they are exposed.

What can parents expect next?

State officials urged parents to be patient. There will be plenty of vaccines to go around, but it may take a day or two for the kinks in the system to be worked out.

And here’s a tip: If you’re getting your child vaccinated Thursday or Friday, you should know that three weeks from now that second dose falls during the Thanksgiving holiday. Officials said parents should to try to stick as closely to that three-week window for the second shot as possible — but that it doesn’t have to be precisely three weeks.

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