On Thursday, my 7-year-old got her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. It was one of the best days we’ve had in a long time.
It’s a certain type of parent who books an appointment for the first day the city starts offering vaccines to kids ages 5-11. So when I walked into the hot, noisy gym at the Waterview Rec Center in Germantown, I felt like I had found my people.
We’re in the minority, as only one-quarter of parents say they plan to get their kids ages 5-11 vaccinated against COVID-19 right away. This isn’t a total surprise, as there’s a lot of misinformation out there about the vaccine in children, including fringe videos suggesting the shots could cause ridiculous side effects. When I picked my kid up from school early to go to the appointment, she asked if the vaccine could turn her blood purple. (I’m still not sure where she got that idea, which I quickly dispelled.)
As we waited, it was wonderful to be around others who feel the way I do: that the vaccine is effective and safe in children, and our only way out of this whole mess.
Honestly, the clinic was like a party. Every shot in the arm was followed by a round of applause. A woman walked around giving a stuffed bear a pretend vaccine in front of kids waiting their turn, to show there was nothing to be afraid of. When we were called, the health-care workers asked my daughter to sit in the “hero seat” for her shot. She didn’t flinch, and smiled when it was over; they gave her stickers and a lollipop. And I felt the knot in my stomach start to loosen for the first time since March 2020.
It turns out I had just missed James Garrow, the director of communications for the city’s Department of Public Health, who also brought his 7-year-old daughter to the pop-up clinic to get vaccinated. He, too, wanted to come the first day the city offered the shot to her age group. (A lucky few got vaccinated at other sites as early as Tuesday.) “We’ve been looking forward to this for months and months,” Garrow told me later. “She’s been asking, ‘When can I get my vaccine?’ ”
“Honestly, the clinic was like a party. Every shot in the arm was followed by a round of applause.”
It was one of the busiest clinic days they’ve had for several months, Garrow said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we booked 100 vaccinations for the day,” he said.
This gives me hope, something I haven’t felt for a long time. Every parent who fought for a spot on Day 1 gives me hope that someday, maybe soon, I can start living my life with less vigilance. This hot, noisy gym full of families signaled to me that maybe enough people will eventually get vaccinated that we will soon be able to go indoors without fear, without checking for open doors and windows, or quickly scanning to see how many people are wearing masks.
Let’s remember that the pandemic is far from over in our area, particularly for parents of children under the age of 5. It’s not even over for my household: Even though my kid is the last to be immunized, she still needs her second shot, and will only be fully vaccinated two weeks after that. And even then, she could still get a breakthrough infection, as could I. But the risk will be much, much lower.
I also can’t forget everything we have missed, and lost, since March 2020. She’s never had a full year of “normal” school — meaning five days per week, in person, without COVID-19 precautions. She will never get to say goodbye to her beloved grandfather, my father, who died in a nursing home in September 2020. I will never be able to spend more worry-free time with my beloved friend who died of cancer less than a week ago, after limiting my visits because my daughter was unvaccinated.
But I tried not to think about all that on Thursday. Instead, after her shot, I took my daughter out for ice cream. And I didn’t notice until we were leaving that the woman who had served us wasn’t wearing a mask.
Alison McCook is a writer living in Wyncote. @alisonmccook