It takes a child to clarify the power of vaccination: When Corinne Scott, 8, was finally able to return to school after adults started getting vaccines against Covid-19 in the spring, it felt like “rainbows and bunnies,” she said . “So much excitement.”
Now it’s “rainbows and bunnies” again for Corinne as it’s her turn to get vaccinated, as the Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) approved the Pfizer vaccine on Oct. 29 for children ages five to 11.
Near Corinne at a vaccine clinic at Elm City Montessori School in New Haven on Nov. 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 give her the vaccine he helped research.
“From a public health perspective, because the Delta variant is so contagious, the percentage of people we need to be immune to the virus must be very high, over 90%. Adding children to the mix will take us one step closer to hopefully eradicating the spread and transmission of the community, and maybe it will take us one step closer to getting the epidemic under control,” Ogbuagu said.
It wasn’t just from a public health standpoint that Ogbuagu appreciated the vaccine. “As a parent, because my daughter does activities like cheerleading, which puts her at risk of meeting others and contracting COVID, it provides that level of reassurance,” he said. “Even if she’s out there in the world doing her thing, that she’s not vulnerable to a disease that, even if children don’t die from it, can still have serious 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 had it, they asked me, ‘What happened? Did your arm hurt? Did you have any symptoms?’” They were nervous, she said, but they were going to get the vaccine anyway. “It protects you and it protects others. I was 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 that it said we could get vaccinations,” Corinne said. “So I thought, I’m probably going to get the vaccine because children are the future.”
Helping kids like Chidera and Corinne feel good about getting vaccinated is an important part of the wider success of the vaccine effort. “For children, it can be very liberating to have choice and control at a time when we haven’t had it. The opportunity to choose something that would make them feel safer felt great for them,” said Elm City Montessori School Principal Julia Webb. The school had organized adult vaccination clinics in the spring and felt it was crucial to give children in the community the same access to provide the vaccine.
Corinne’s mother LaToya Howard is a former intern at YCCI and has been working in the clinical research field for 12 years. She previously 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 reduce the risk of Covid, I’m all for it,” she said. “I’ve told Corinne that this isn’t a panacea, but it will definitely help make it an easier experience and provide a lot of protection.”
Both Corinne and LaToya had Covid-19 last year. They have both now fully recovered, but LaToya suffered many long-term Covid symptoms as she recovered from her first infection, and Corinne lost her sense of smell. “I didn’t want to eat,” she recalls. “It didn’t taste good to me.”
LaToya is grateful for the prompt action Elm City Montessori took in running a vaccine clinic for children so soon after FDA approval. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” Howard said. “The high turnout we’ve seen at the school is part of our strong community spirit. We consider ourselves a family here.”
“Schools are trusted anchors of the community,” said David Weinreb, a teacher who helped coordinate the school’s vaccination clinic, as well as others in the city. “As a community, we will continue to provide grace, understanding and patience as each family works out their plan, and we will continue to send a clear message to our children and their families that vaccines are safe, effective and the best for our school community.”
For those who may be skeptical of the Covid-19 vaccine, whether for children or adults, Howard offers a perspective on the vaccine through the lens of her work in clinical research: “I would tell everyone, if you open your medicine cabinet and looking at any medication, it has gone through a very rigorous process,” she says. “When I see all the steps and know how carefully people make these decisions, I have respect for these people who have devoted 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 the Elm City Montessori vaccination clinic on vaccination day.