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Chicago kids ages 5-11 line up for COVID-19 vaccine: ‘It’s important because I don’t want to get anyone sick and I don’t want to get sick’

Clinics started administering shots Wednesday after the federal government signed off on the Pfizer vaccine Tuesday.

A 6-year-old holds his brother’s hand while a medical assistant administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Enzo Garcia, 6 (left), holds the hand of his brother Dante Garcia, 9 (center), while Marco Reyes, medical assistant at Esperanza Health Centers, administers the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Dante Garcia, 9, does not like needles, but he pulled up his sleeve and got his COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday — the first day shots were available to kids his age.

“It’s important because I don’t want to get anyone sick and I don’t want to get sick,” said Dante, who was given an outer space-themed sticker after getting the jab.

The vaccine means he can attend a hockey tournament in Michigan, and visit family out-of-state, with fewer worries he will contract the virus or get seriously sick.

“We have some family in Mexico and Korea, and we haven’t been able to visit them, or more Delta-variant prone areas like in the South,” said Eun Sem Kil, his mother. “I’m hoping we can go now. I’m excited because it’s been a long time for everyone.”

Dante, and his brother, Enzo, were among the first children under the age of 12 to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Health officials hailed the shots — now available for kids ages 5 to 11 — as a major breakthrough after more than 18 months of illness, hospitalizations, deaths and disrupted education around the world. Kid-sized doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had cleared a major hurdle Tuesday when they were given a green light from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The vaccine — one-third the dose given to older children and adults and administered with kid-sized needles — requires two doses three weeks apart, plus two more weeks for full protection. That means children who get vaccinated before Thanksgiving will be covered by Christmas.

With the federal government promising enough vaccines to protect the nation’s 28 million children in this age group, pediatricians’ offices and hospitals started to welcome children for inoculations Wednesday. Schools, pharmacies and other locations plan to follow suit in the days ahead; many are already scheduling appointments.

Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., administered the vaccine for the Garcia brothers and at least nine other young children. Parents can sign their children up for the vaccine online, and already at least 20 more children are expected to get the shot on Thursday. The medical clinic serves residents on the Southwest Side of Chicago, which has historically struggled with less access to health services.

Vaccine locations for kids and adults can also be found at chi.gov/covidvax.

At the University of Chicago Comer Children’s Hospital, vaccine scheduler Rajean Randle said she’s seen a steady demand for the vaccine since the hospital started accepting appointments for young children last week. The hospital has continued to open up vaccine appointments in small increments.

Dante Garcia, 9, shows off his bandage where he received his first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine, at Esperanza Health Centers, 6057 S. Western Ave., Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2021.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Laura Torres was also able to sign her 7-year-old niece, Diana, for the shot Wednesday afternoon at Esperanza. Diana was visiting from Guatemala, where she does not have access to the vaccine yet.

“We had been worried the entire time because we had been hearing stories of children getting sick,” Torres said, through a translator. “We’re just very happy that we were able to access it now.”

Diana reacted well to the vaccine and is experiencing more pain in the arm where she was given the flu vaccine, also on Wednesday, Torres said.

Illinois Department of Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike has said medical experts have reviewed data from clinical trials, and that children in the trials saw the same side effects as adolescents and adults but to a lesser extent. The side effects included injection site pain, redness and swelling, fatigue, headache, muscle or joint pain, chills, and fever, and generally lasted one to two days.

The Garcias planned to spend Wednesday evening celebrating what they saw as a historic moment and the brothers overcoming their fear of needles with — as Mom promised — Pokémon cards and doughnuts.