For children 12 to 15, getting the COVID-19 vaccine means getting ‘back to normal’

Teens at Sandy vaccination site talk about what they’ll do this summer, once they’re fully immunized.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Christopher Whitehead, 13, of West Jordan gets a bandaid after receiving his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine by EMT Sean Murphy, as 12-15 year olds get their vaccinations against COVID-19 at the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

Sean Murphy has a trick to getting teen boys to relax when they’re nervous about getting jabbed in the arm with a COVID-19 vaccination.

Murphy, an EMT working at the Salt Lake County Health Department’s mass-vaccination site at Sandy’s Mountain America Expo Center, goes through the standard questionnaire with each person. He runs down a list of potential health conditions, and with the boys he will pause ever so slightly when he asks: “Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?”

The question made Christopher Whitehead, a 13-year-old from West Jordan, smile — and made his dad, Chris, chuckle.

Whitehead was one of several children who visited the Sandy clinic Tuesday, less than a week after the Pfizer version of the vaccine was approved for children 12 to 15.

“I’d like to get the COVID vaccine to go back to normal,” said the younger Whitehead, a student at Jefferson Junior High. “Having my friends over for parties, going to restaurants, places like that — soccer.”

The expo center’s vaccination site has seen up to 500 people a day walk in to get their shots in recent days, said Gabe Moreno, a spokesman for the Salt Lake County Health Department. The site saw a surge of people last weekend, many of them between 12 and 15 who just became eligible.

For sisters Allison and Isabella Price, 15 and 14, from Herriman, the incentive to get the vaccination is a summer trip to Hawaii. Their dad, Eric, said the plan is to leave for Hawaii a week after the girls get their second Pfizer dose in June.

The Price family got hit with COVID-19 over the Christmas holiday, and the sisters are eager to get the pandemic behind them.

The vaccine means “not worrying about masks, because I do a lot of after-school activities,” said Allison, who’s in musical theater and choir. “It’s kind of worrisome that I could get COVID when I do those activities. Having that relief, that it’s going to be a lot harder for me to get it, is going to be nice.”

Her sister, Isabella, attends Fort Herriman Junior High (where her dad is the principal), but performs in the color guard at Mountain Ridge High School. She’ll be practicing with the marching band over the summer — an activity with a lot of people. “It may be a possibility for us to go without masks if the case [counts] drop,” she said.

The 12- to 15-year-olds are “amazing,” said Wendy Dewey, a registered nurse who was among the health care workers administering the vaccine Tuesday. “Most of them have been really brave, and most of them are excited to actually get it — because they see it as a way to get back with their friends.”

“I had a gal come on the very first day — she was all dressed up for the occasion,” said Bryn Berry, a registered nurse, who brought adhesive bandages with images of the Marvel comics characters Iron Man and Captain America.

That is Christopher Whitehead’s plan when he’s fully vaccinated. “I’m probably going to go someplace like Lagoon with my friends,” he said. “Some big thing to make up for the year.”