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Vaccine Approval For 12-To-15-Year-Olds Brings The Prospect Of A Normal Summer

A summer road stretches to a blue sky
Anna Van Dine
VPR File
Summer: it's coming. And for 12- to 15-year-olds, who can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine, it's looking like they'll be able to do normal kid things again.

On May 10, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration gave emergency use authorization to the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for adolescents ages 12-15. Two days later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended its use. Exactly a week after that, 13-year-old Ethan Gann of East Hardwick got his first shot.

Ethan Gann co-reported this story with VPR’s Anna Van Dine. Audio for this story will be posted.

Anna Van Dine: Last Wednesday afternoon after a day of remote school, Ethan, his mom and his twin sister Sadie drove to Hyde Park to get their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. 

"It's going to make it so I don't have to wear my mask that often, and I can be around friends without being worried that something's going to happen." - Sadie

Ethan Gann: Sadie and I were in the backseat. I was feeling kind of nervous; she was not.

“I’m excited, mostly, to get the vaccine,” Sadie said. “Because, I don’t know, it’s going to make it so I don’t have to wear my mask that often, and I can be around friends without being worried that something’s going to happen.”

Ethan Gann: If you’re an adult, it might not seem like a big deal that I was going to get a vaccine. But because I’m 13, I kind of got used to the idea that I just wasn’t going to get it. I watched my parents get vaccinated, and my teachers, and my older sister, who’s 18. 

Anna Van Dine: Here in Vermont, there were more than 7,000 signups in the first 24 hours that kids Ethan’s age were allowed to get vaccinated.

Ethan Gann: My mom signed me and Sadie up right away. At school, kids were talking about when they were going to get it, if they were going to get it, and if they were nervous or not. Most of them were going to get it, and most of them, like me, were a little nervous.

Anna Van Dine: In the first week that signups were open, even more people registered. There are about 27,000, 12-to-15-year-olds in Vermont and, according to Health Commissioner Mark Levine, “There's about 60% of them that have already gotten the needle or are awaiting it. So that’s really good.”

This age group became eligible at the same time that Vermont stopped requiring vaccinated people to wear masks. And school gets out next month. So 12-to-15-year-olds didn’t just get vaccine eligibility; they may be in for a near-normal summer.

'We Have Nothing To Do': How Vermont Teenagers Are Spending An Unusual Summer

Ethan Gann: I’m looking forward to not wearing masks, for one. I’m also really excited to not have to worry about any responsibilities -- I’m free to do whatever I want. That’s the best thing about summer. But what about back-to-school?

Adam Rosenberg, the superintendent of my school district, said COVID-19 precautions like masking and distancing all depend on how many people get the vaccine. “We’re really looking towards next fall in the hopes that things will loosen up,” he told us.

Anna Van Dine: Rosenberg said he’s expecting to receive more guidance from the Agency of Education next month. He’s also thinking ahead to how he can track the number of kids who have been vaccinated. According to Dr. Levine, it’s also possible that schools could mandate the vaccine at some point.

But even if enough students get vaccinated, quote-unquote “normal” might just be for middle and high school kids. There are a lot of Vermonters who are under 12 and not yet eligible for any of the vaccines. 

Ethan Gann: I also have an 11-year-old sister, and she might not get vaccinated for months. I feel kind of bad for her -- I know what it’s like to have to wait.

"I want you to get back to normal, and be able to hang out with your friends, and me not worry about being like, 'OK, put your mask on; stand six-feet apart, you're too close,' 'cause that's not what childhood is about." - Sadie and Ethan's mom

For now, it’s just me and Sadie. When we got to the vaccine clinic, I signed in, and the nurse took me to a vaccine station.

Sitting in the chair, I thought back to last March, when school first went remote because of COVID-19, and all the days since, wondering when it’s going to end. And this was it. And what I felt wasn't so much nervousness, it was like ... Christmas. 

“OK,” said the nurse, “just a quick little pick, keep that arm nice and relaxed.”

It felt like nothing. “Did you do it?” I asked her. 

“I did it, you are done!”

And that was it. My mom, my sister and I headed home.

In the car, my mom told us she’s glad we finally became eligible for the shot.

More from Vermont Edition: Vt. Could Soon Lift All Remaining COVID-19 Restrictions. Here's What You Need To Know

“I want you to get back to normal, and be able to hang out with your friends, and me not worry about being like, 'OK, put your mask on; stand six-feet apart, you’re too close,' cause that’s not what childhood is about. That’s not what being a teenager is about; you’re supposed to get closer to people at your age," she said. "And I’m excited for you to get that again.”

I’m excited too. Getting the vaccine means being able to do things again, like hanging out with friends, or going to the movies. We lost so much freedom because of COVID-19, and now we can get it back. 

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

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Anna worked for Vermont Public from 2019 through 2023 as a reporter and co-host of the daily news podcast, The Frequency.
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