We keep hearing about coronavirus vaccine scoffers and resisters, but those of us who’ve taken the shot – and its booster, in some cases – know there’s a saner, more reasonable side to the issue.
Of course, the debate will rachet up once children as young as 5 can be vaccinated. Even sensible, science-believing parents might be excused for experiencing a teeny bit of anxiety. Actually, I suspect that many of us, even as we resolutely pursued the vaccine in its early days of distribution, went into it with a tinge of trepidation.
But we got vaccinated anyway.
Now it’s nearing time for some of the youngest among us. This week I spoke with a couple of parents about their decision to vaccinate their children.
Ge Vang, a Hmong-American who is a family support specialist at the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center, said he had been eager to get his 16-year-old son, Benjamin, vaccinated. “That’s why when they made it available, I took him to get vaccinated right away. It’s very important and I don’t know why all the people don’t want to do it. This is something to protect your health,” Vang said.
Romeris Morales was honest about her initial reticence. “It was a new vaccine and I was very nervous and scared. I didn’t know the side effects the vaccine would have on myself and my child,” she told me.
That hesitancy disappeared after seeing others being vaccinated at the Lealman and Asian Neighborhood Family Center during pop-up clinics earlier this year. Morales, who is a family support specialist in the center’s satellite office that serves the Hispanic community, helped out at the vaccine clinics.
“I saw a lot of people getting vaccinated, older people, people my age and younger than me,” she said, adding that she was curious to learn whether they experienced side effects.
“But then when they came the second time – some of them were my clients – some said they only had mild side effects. I said, I can’t be selfish. I need to get vaccinated. I need to get my son vaccinated. He’s going back to school and he’s going to be interacting with his friends and his teachers.”
So she and her older son, Jeilam, who is 13, got their vaccines on the same day. He had no side effects. She, however, stayed home the next day with a headache, other aches and a fever.
That doesn’t mean she’ll not get her younger son, Dylan, vaccinated as soon as he is eligible. He turned 10 in September. “The vaccine is a prevention,” Morales said. “I’m going to get him vaccinated because of his grandparents, ourselves, his uncles and his cousins. Also, his classmates and his teachers. It’s not only us being sick. I want people around him to be safe.”
Executive director Donna McGill said most of the children 12 and older in the center’s afterschool program are vaccinated. She believes that will also hold true for the younger children once they’re eligible for the vaccine.
That assessment came as no surprise after hearing her talk about the 700 shots that went into willing arms during three pop-up clinics held at the center in March and April. The center, whose clientele is about 85 percent Asian, quickly spread word about the scheduled vaccinations.
A Vietnamese staff member worked the phone “and we put it out on our website and put out fliers in the neighborhood,” McGill said. “The people that came that weren’t Asian were people in the neighborhood. The reason we wanted to do it is because people know us and trust us. It’s where they were comfortable coming.”
I asked about the community’s high acceptance of the vaccine. “Our families, especially our Asian families, live in multigenerational homes,” she explained. “There’s grandparents, aunts and uncles, parents and children, so when you have a family with that wide an age range, everybody wants to be protected. They want everyone to be safe and to protect each other.”
The fact that the center holds a trusted place in the community was one of the reasons State Rep. Ben Diamond spoke to McGill about hosting the vaccine clinics and worked with the director of the state’s division of emergency management to bring them to the area.
Vaccine equity was central to his plan. “We have a really special community in Lealman,” he said.
“I am always thinking about Lealman, because there is a lot we need to do to bring more opportunity there. I just felt like that the state needed to make an extra effort to bring the vaccines directly to this Vietnamese and Laotian community. Many of the folks do not speak English. In terms of the barriers we have for vaccination, we had language barriers. We had cultural barriers. There were issues in terms of access. Many of the folks don’t have a car.”
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, as of Oct. 18, among those aged 12 and older, 65 percent of Hispanics and 62 percent of whites nationwide had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose. Blacks, though, lagged behind, with only 56 percent receiving at least one dose. On the other hand, Asians, at 79 percent, have the highest vaccination rate.
Health equity is an important mission of the Florida Department of Health in Pinellas, spokesperson Maggie Hall said. Vaccines, she said in an email, continue to be scheduled at locations in underserved areas.
In coming days, the department’s outreach teams will offer vaccines at locations that include Iglesia Puerta De Salvacion, 4101 54th Ave. N, on Saturday, and Halloween at the Deuces, 833 22nd St. S, on Sunday.
The department also has been holding vaccination clinics at schools. “We have already been vaccinating the 12-plus age group with Pfizer, so expanding to other age groups or with other vaccines would be part of that effort,” she said.
It’s my hope that with each additional vaccination, we will move one step closer to putting this tenacious virus that has held us captive firmly behind us.