These Kansas City kids want to get their COVID vaccines, and the wait may soon be over
With COVID-19 vaccines available soon for children ages 5-11, I wanted to see how Kansas City kids felt about their shots. I also heard something more: fears about the disease that's changed their lives, and impatience over long-promised plans and parties.
Addy is a 9-year-old in Kansas City, Missouri. She likes to dance, loves snacks, and has been waiting to get her COVID-19 vaccine for what feels — to her 4th-grade brain — like an eternity.
Back in the spring, when Addy's parents got vaccinated, they urged her to be patient. They told her it would probably take six more months to get shots for kids.
Addy is still waiting — and none too happy about it.
“I wish I was 12 years old right now,” she tells me. “I don’t know why we can’t just use the adult vaccine.”
The vaccine, as Addy understands it, can protect her. That's the main thing she wants.
"I feel really sad sometimes and very scared that I might get COVID," she says. "When I listen to the news, I hear about it. And then I get scared."
When she's scared, Addy says her dad reminds her of all the things she can still do to protect herself, like wearing a mask.
But Addy wants more than just assurance — she's a thrill seeker and a social butterfly. After almost two years in carefully-controlled environments, she very obviously craves an adrenaline rush. Airplane rides and roller coasters come up a lot in our short conversation.
So do the arrows she has to follow when walking down the hall at school. When she sees her friends, Addy just wants to rush over to greet them. "I do not want to have to follow arrows," she proclaims with conviction.
"Some places we go to, they have big crowds and like, if there's a carnival or a pool and it has too many people, I won’t to be able to go. One time we were going to Sky Zone," she says, referring to the play space filled with wall-to-wall trampolines, "and then we found out that somebody had COVID there. So we couldn't go."
But when Addy finally gets vaccinated, the first thing she wants to do is throw a big party inside her house. She tells me she will invite "more than eight people," with separate areas for kids and grownups. She has it all planned out.
“Now that I know it's going to probably be next month, I’m really, really excited,” Addy says.
For months, COVID-19 vaccines have only been made available to adults and teens 12 years old and up. But on Friday, the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 — one of the final milestones on the approval timeline. If all goes well, according to NPR, that group could begin getting shots as early as this week.
With the rollout date appearing imminent, I wanted to hear from the Kansas City kids whose life plans are hanging in the balance. (Because they're minors, I'm only using their first names here.)
Of the seven youngsters I talked to, Addy was the only one who didn’t mention being scared of shots. In fact, she didn’t mention shots at all. During our Zoom chat, I asked if she knew how her vaccine would be administered.
She paused and shrugged, suggesting that maybe it's like how you get tested for COVID-19. Would she be vaccinated with a swab up the nose?
Addy's mom broke the news. "It's a shot," she explained from off-camera. “A shot?!?!” Addy replied, eyes widening.
I held my breath, fearing I'd destroyed Addy's vaccination eagerness. But when I asked if this crucial detail changed her mind, Addy told me: no, it didn't.
It's strange to be a kid right now. Kids can comprehend some of the complexities of viral contagion — something I don't think I learned, in earnest, until high school — without realizing that "vaccines" are the same thing as "shots."
They can be responsible, like 9-year-old Titus, for reminding their fellow 4th-graders to wear their masks — that's his classroom job, and he knows it's no joke.
But Titus is still young enough that, when his mom prompts him to answer a question by asking "What do you say?", he responds with a habitual, "Thank you."
Sophia, who's 5, can explain how vaccines work more clearly and succinctly than many adults I know. "If you get it," Sophia tells me in a serious tone, "then it will kind of like teach your body how to fight germs."
Despite her sophisticated answer, Sophia says she's still nervous about getting the vaccine, because "shots do hurt." (She hasn't yet mastered pronunciation of the letter "r" in "germs," "nervous," or "hurt.")
She'll get vaccinated — and she'll know why she's getting vaccinated — but she remains a realist, and a kid still.
Kids are more aware of this vaccine rollout than grownups might imagine, because they're acutely aware of the impact COVID-19 has on their lives.
Getting their own shot is a big deal to them — even if these kids can't comprehend (or, in some cases, read) the daily news around it.
"I'm excited," says 10-year-old Sidney. "And I think I'm going to be pretty excited and feel more protected."
As an only child who used to hang out with friends a lot, keeping her social activity within her family's bubble has been a big change. She's given up piano lessons ("I didn't like doing it on Zoom") and now she draws instead. Sidney also misses travel. "I want to go to New York again," she says. "I love going to New York. It's loud."
For Sidney, too, a feeling of safety is still her biggest motivator for vaccination. "A lot of people get really sick from it," she says of COVID-19. "I can't even imagine what it would be like if that happened to someone I know."
Childhood only happens once, and in the life of someone that age, two years is a huge amount of time. These kids have missed a lot — and they know it.
But they also have lists of things they can't wait to do once they're vaccinated.
Andrew attends 5th grade in the Shawnee Mission School District. He's a smart 10-year-old who likes playing soccer and reading. Like Addy, he's excited for his turn to get a shot, and frustrated that it's taken so long.
"I know that it's harder for kids because there's there's less people to test and it can be a lot more dangerous," Andrew tells me. "But I still feel like we could have put more focus into getting it approved for kids, because a lot of the reason the virus is still spreading is because kids aren't vaccinated against it."
Andrew's weathered the pandemic fairly optimistically, and he's quick to point out what has gone back to normal. Soccer, for example: After a year and half without playing, he's back on the field again, and since practice happens outdoors, he doesn't have to wear a mask.
He's still disappointed, though, by what he's missed out on. Before the pandemic, his family planned a trip to Mexico. Instead of flying out in February, the trip was postponed. Then, canceled.
Andrew still wants to go.
It's easy to forget, talking to Andrew, how young he is. I ask him if he remembers finding out that he wouldn't be going to Mexico, and the corners of his mouth turn downward.
Staring back at me is a wounded kid, who just nods. "Yes. I was very upset. That was not a fun experience."
Andrew's parents jump in to comfort him, reminding him of a family trip coming up in December. They're going to San Francisco for a Metallica concert — Andrew plays guitar himself, and loves Metallica. But proof of vaccination is required for entry.
If you wonder whether kids really care when the federal government grants vaccine approval, or how fast the rollout happens, it probably depends from one household to another.
But Andrew definitely does.