It takes a child to clarify the power of vaccination: When Corinne Scott, 8, was finally able to return to school after adults began to receive vaccines against Covid-19 in the spring, it felt like “rainbows and bunnies,” she said. “So much excitement.”
Now, it is “rainbows and bunnies” all over again for Corinne as it is her turn to be vaccinated, since the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine on October 29 for children ages five through 11.
Lining up near Corinne at a vaccine clinic at Elm City Montessori School in New Haven on November 6 was Associate Professor of Medicine (AIDS) Onyema Ogbuagu, MBBCh. Ogbuagu is the principal investigator for the Yale site of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine trial, and he was in New Haven with his 10-year-old daughter, Chidera, to get her the vaccine that he helped investigate.
“From a public health standpoint, because the Delta variant has been so contagious, the percentage of the people we need to be immune to the virus has to be very high, upwards of 90%. Adding children to the mix brings us inch-by-inch closer to hopefully knocking down the community spread and transmission, and maybe gets us a step closer to the epidemic being controlled,” Ogbuagu said.
It was not just from a public health standpoint that Ogbuagu valued the vaccine. “As a parent, because my daughter does activities, like cheerleading, that put her at risk of meeting others, and contracting COVID, it provides that level of reassurance,” he said. “Even if she is out there in the world and doing her thing, that she is not vulnerable to a disease that, even if kids don’t die from it, can still have severe manifestations or potential long-term consequences.”
Chidera was well-positioned to reassure her friends who were a little nervous about getting the vaccine. “After I got it they asked me, ‘What happened? Did your arm hurt? Did you have any symptoms?’” They were nervous, she said, but they were still going to get the vaccine. “It’s protecting yourself and it’s protecting others. I felt proud of myself, because it didn’t even hurt. I thought, ‘You did this, this is really good.’”
“At school they handed out flyers and I saw it said we can get vaccinations,” said Corinne. “So I thought, I probably am going to get the vaccine because kids are the future.”
Helping children like Chidera and Corinne feel good about getting vaccinated is a key part of the vaccine effort’s broader success. “For children, it can feel really liberating to have choice and control in a time when we haven’t had any of that. The ability to choose something that could make them feel safer felt great for them,” said Elm City Montessori School Prinicipal Julia Webb. The school had hosted vaccination clinics for adults in the spring, and felt it was crucial to provide the same access to the vaccine for children in the community.
Corinne’s mother LaToya Howard is a former intern with YCCI, and has been in the field of clinical research for 12 years. She formerly worked at Yale’s Human Research Protection Program, and is now a clinical trial manager at Alexion Pharmaceuticals in New Haven. “Anything that can help to mitigate the risk of Covid, I’m all for it,” she said. “I’ve told Corinne, this is not a silver bullet, but this will definitely help make it an easier experience and offer a lot of protection.”
Both Corinne and LaToya had Covid-19 last year. They are both fully recovered now, but LaToya suffered from many long-Covid symptoms as she recovered from her initial infection, and Corinne lost her sense of smell. “I didn’t want to eat,” she recalled. “It didn’t taste good to me.”
LaToya is grateful for the quick action that Elm City Montessori took in holding a vaccine clinic for children so soon after FDA approval. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Howard said. “The high turnout that we have seen at the school is part of our strong community spirit. We consider ourselves to be a family here.”
“Schools are trusted community anchors,” said David Weinreb, a teacher who helped coordinate the school’s vaccination clinic, as well as others around the city. “As a community, we will continue to offer grace, understanding, and patience as each family figures out their plan, and we will continue to provide our children and their families with a clear message that vaccines are safe, effective and best for our school community.”
To those who might be skeptical of the Covid-19 vaccine, for children or adults, Howard offers a perspective on the vaccine through the lens of her work in clinical research: “I would tell anyone, if you open your medicine cabinet and look at any medication, it has been through a very rigorous process,” she says. “Seeing all of the steps, and knowing how careful people are in making these decisions, I have respect for these people who have dedicated their lives to this work.”
In other words, it was “rainbows and bunnies” for her daughter, and Ogbuagu’s daughter, and the other children at Elm City Montessori’s vaccine clinic on vaccination day.