Most of Livia Walker’s face was concealed by a pink cloth mask printed with white cats, but the 5-year-old's nervousness about the impending shot was apparent.
She didn’t say a word as the needle pricked her arm, making her one of the youngest kids in East Baton Rouge Parish to receive their first Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 shot. But the room inside the Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital pharmacy was filled with cheers from her older sister, 9-year-old Jane Walker, and their mother Mari Walker.
“I’m just so glad that it finally happened,” Mari Walker said as her daughters rushed to each pick out a stuffed animal as a reward for their courage.
Jane and Livia were among 18 children age 5 to 11 who received their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine Friday morning at the children’s hospital, just days after federal and state regulators approved the vaccine for the youngest age group yet to receive the vaccine.
Experts say children should receive the vaccine not necessarily because they're at severe risk, but because they could carry the virus to people who are. Since the pandemic began, there have been 997 COVID-19 deaths reported in East Baton Rouge Parish; the coroner's office said those who died included children ages 2 and 14 with "significant co-morbidities."
The Walker family said the shot was about returning to normalcy after 20 months of living with the pandemic.
“It means I'll get to go to restaurants and go to Knock Knock,” said Jane, referring to the Knock Knock Children’s Museum that her family frequented before the pandemic.
Mari Walker, a content strategist for The Lake who was vaccinated in April, is also planning a trip for the family to visit her mother in Oklahoma. They haven’t seen each other since before the pandemic.
“This vaccine means that we’ll be able to do those things, but it also means we’ll be able to protect the rest of our community, and we’re really excited to do that,” Mari Walker said.
Pharmacist Claudia Brooks was a constant source of hugs and reassurance for the children throughout the hour-long series of vaccine appointments.
The pharmacy plans to ramp up vaccinations next week, and Our Lady of the Lake clinics will also provide the vaccine to the newly eligible kids. The 18 children vaccinated Friday represented a soft launch just a day after the pharmacy received its first 200 doses of the vaccine, which was helpful for Brooks because “some of them were nervous.”
But many of the children receiving their shot were able to put on a brave face.
Dr. Michael Bolton, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the hospital, took his daughters, 8-year-old Georgia and 11-year-old Caroline, to get donuts before heading to school after their shots because “they were super brave.”
“It hurt more than I expected it to, but it didn’t hurt as bad as, like, really bad,” Georgia said.
Caroline is most excited to have sleepovers with her friends again. Georgia is looking forward to her first sleepover, which her older sister told her is a lot of fun.
Both girls said they would “probably” show off their Band-Aids to their friends at school, which their dad encouraged.
“This is OK to be something to share, to be excited about and try to get our friends to be vaccinated too,” Bolton said.
Cooper Volland, 11, received the last shot of the morning. While he also doesn’t enjoy shots, he told his mother weeks ago that he couldn’t wait to get the vaccine because “it’s the safe thing to do.”
When asked how he feels about needles just before receiving his shot, Volland shrugged: “I don’t care for ‘em, but I’m glad I’m getting it."
He then flashed a thumbs up as the needle pricked his arm.
When asked what he was going to do with his new vaccine card, Volland held the paper square in the air: “Frame it.”