By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon and Erin Emery
Parents were overjoyed to bring their children for walk-in, after-school COVID-19 vaccines on the first day children and teens, ages 12 to 15, were eligible to receive inoculations that could bring back simple pleasures, like sleepovers.
The mood — and the shoes — shifted noticeably as children arrived at vaccine clinics around Colorado on Thursday.
Kids wore colorful Chuck Taylors and Vans with checkerboard patterns. They couldn’t wait to be fully vaccinated so they could enjoy hanging out with friends in person again.
“I really haven’t seen my friends since COVID started. I can actually have sleepovers now,” said Charlie Bandimere, 12.
He was nonchalant after getting his jab.
“It didn’t really hurt. It was just a poke,” Charlie said with a shrug. “It’s not even sore yet.”
Charlie can’t wait to get together with his buddies.
“We like to have nerf wars and play basketball and video games. We haven’t had any sleepovers,” said Charlie.
He lives in Thornton, and his dad spontaneously brought him to UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora on Thursday afternoon after learning online 90 minutes earlier that children and teens are welcome to show up without appointments at UCHealth clinics to get their free vaccines. (Click here for locations and clinic hours.)
“We’ve got family members who are high risk — grandparents in their 80s with health conditions. We’ve been protecting them,” said Charlie’s dad, Brian Bandimere.
“We just walked right in. It was great,” Brian said.
Once Charlie is fully vaccinated — two weeks after his second dose — he wants to go to Elitch’s and Water World with his friends. The family is also looking forward to vacations at Lake McConaughy and Lake Powell where they’ll enjoy tubing, fishing and playing on jet skis. Normalcy is on the horizon.
Protecting her dad
Rosalyn Parker, 15, has been staying home religiously to protect her dad.
Now, after getting her first dose, she can envision some freedom.
“I want to hang out with my friends,” Rosalyn said.
She also wants to visit her sister in Oregon and go to a movie in a theater.
Her dad, Darrold Parker, is a cancer survivor who was at high risk for get critically ill if he got COVID-19.
“I was given 3-to-6 months to live back in July of 2007,” Darrold said.
Thankfully, he got a second opinion for neuroendocrine carcinoma at the University of Colorado Cancer Center on the Anschutz Medical Campus. He got a new lease on life thanks to the care he has received for years there.
But the pandemic has been tough.
“I really feel sorry for Rosalyn. She likes going out with friends. She’s been really good about curtailing all of her activities for a year-and-a-half for our safety,” he said.
School pals make a long drive, then pose with new vaccine cards
School pals Tarek Murad and Miles Elkins, both 12, carpooled with their mothers from Pueblo on Thursday to get their first dose of vaccine at the UCHealth Memorial Administrative Center in Colorado Springs.
Tarek’s mom, Barbara Murad, said she didn’t hesitate about making the long drive. Her husband, a physician in Pueblo, called her from work on Thursday morning and encouraged her to hunt for clinics vaccinating kids ages 12 and older. She found UCHealth’s clinic online and was thrilled.
“We felt it was extremely important to get the vaccine for both personal and community reasons,” she said, adding that her family has seen friends struggle with COVID-19 and its after-effects.
“We have a lot of faith in this vaccine and are eager to safely resume family visits, gatherings and travel. Tarek asked to get this as soon as he was able, and luckily UCHealth was open and the experience was so easy and the staff was amazing.”
Miles’ mother, April Elkins, also is a believer in the vaccine – so much so that she was a participant in UCHealth’s vaccine trial for AstraZeneca.
“We wanted to get the vaccine because Miles has asthma and when he was younger, he was in the hospital at least five different times with various respiratory viruses,” Elkins said. “I was thrilled to have a chance to better protect him and those around him from this virus. I’m also excited about the possibility of having a somewhat ‘normal’ summer.”
Miles, who celebrated his 12th birthday just last week, was a little hesitant about the needle stick, but it was over before he knew it. He received his vaccine just seconds after his friend, and both then posed for a photo with their vaccination cards.
Baseball player gets vaccine in his throwing arm
Carson Baker, 13, is a man of few words. He’s also a first baseman and an occasional pitcher for his team at Jenkins Middle School in Colorado Springs.
When Allen Reid, a medical assistant at a vaccine clinic at the Memorial Administrative Center, asked Carson if he wanted to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in his throwing arm, his reply was succinct.
Asked why he believes in the vaccine, again, his words are few, but powerful.
“It’s just a good thing to do so I don’t get COVID,’’ Carson said.
His mother, Susan Baker, is a health care professional at UCHealth who encourages adults and children ages 12 and older to get their vaccines so families and communities can get back to normal.
“He’s already been quarantined three times from school … so in order to get on with our lives from day to day, I think this is really important,’’ she said.
Ready to take a plane ride more safely
Tammy Miller brought her daughter, Aaliyah Bigbee, 14, to receive her first shot. Aaliyah is in the eighth grade at Russel Middle School in Colorado Springs.
Tammy wanted her daughter to get vaccinated because the family is boarding an airplane next month and flying to Charleston, South Carolina. They’re planning to spend a few days on Folly Beach.
Though vaccinations are not required to board commercial airliners, Tammy wanted an extra bit of protection for her daughter and herself. In February, the whole family got COVID-19 and suffered for a week.
Aaliyah planned to tell her friends about getting the shot.
“I feel good. I feel much better that I have it,” she said.
Tammy said that she knows of two people who died from the virus and another man who was hospitalized.
“They actually made him write a will because he was so sick. That’s so scary. We want to make sure that we’re not contributing to passing it around, so we got our vaccine,’’ Tammy said.
Overcoming a fear of needles
Meghan Williams, 13, has a fear of needles, which is quite common among kids and adults alike. For comfort, she brought the trusted blankie she’s had since she was a baby. Her family is from Maryland, so her blankie has a crab and other sea creatures to remind her of the beautiful Maryland shore. The blankie also has some well-worn holes from all the comfort it has provided over the years. It came in handy on Thursday too.
Meghan buried her head in her blankie as she got her shot. Her younger brother, Wilson, 10, also held her hand and hugged her. He’s not eligible for a vaccine yet, but joined Meghan and their sister, Kate, 12, as both got their vaccines.
Their mom, Kimberly Williams, is a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit or NICU at University of Colorado Hospital. She was thrilled when she got word that the vaccine clinic had opened to children and younger teens.
Both Kate and Wilson were preemies themselves. They are doing great now, but had rough starts in life.
“He was born at 26 weeks and spent three months here,” Kimberly said of Wilson.
Kate was born at 32 weeks and was able to go home about a month after her birth.
The Williams family has been very careful throughout the pandemic and can’t wait for the freedom that vaccines for almost all family members will provide.
Meghan’s nervousness melted away as soon as she got her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“I’m just glad that I could be one of the first ones my age to help with this whole pandemic. If I’m immune to this, that’s one less person to get COVID,” said Meghan, who is an 8th grader at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic School in Arvada.
Kate used to be afraid of getting shots, but said the vaccine was just fine. Like other kids her age, she’s looking forward to sleepovers.
“We like to stay up late and gossip and talk,” Kate said.
Her advice to other kids: “Don’t be afraid. If you are afraid, you’ll be fine. I got it and I feel fine.”
The family is looking forward to taking an RV trip across the country this summer. They’ll travel all the way to Maryland where they will visit relatives and enjoy fun times and delicious seafood on the shore.
And even though Wilson can’t get his vaccine yet, he’s hoping he’ll be able to get it later this summer. Until then, he’s happy to comfort others and spread the word about the benefits.
“Get your vaccine if you want to be safe from COVID and you don’t want to stay in a hospital,” Wilson said.
He doesn’t remember his hospital stay long ago, but he went through some tough times and wants others to avoid trauma and sickness.
“It’s going to be better when we all get the vaccine and we can go back to normal and see family members and eat inside a restaurant and not have to wear a mask,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be so nice!”