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The Arizona kids getting vaccinated are looking forward to eating out, parties and feeling safe

Kids ages 5 to 11 became eligible for a pediatric version of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last week. Many Arizona families, like the Snedecors, have been waiting for this moment and rushed to get their young children inoculated as soon as possible.

Sisters Adora and Violet Snedecor, ages 11 and 9 respectively, were able to get their first doses last Thursday, two days after the vaccine was green-lighted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was a big deal for both girls because of everything they’ve had to sacrifice during the pandemic to keep themselves and their loved ones safe.

“I’m very excited to get my vaccine because I am not allowed to hang out with my friends who, like, don’t wear masks 'cause my mom is worried about, like, if they get COVID now I am exposed to it, but now, since I am getting my vaccine, I’ll be able to hang out with them again," Violet said. 

She was also looking forward to being able to go out to eat again and have birthday parties instead of "online crap."

Big sister Adora is hoping it will give some peace of mind to their mom, Ruth Snedecor, who works as an internal medicine physician in the Valley. 

“I’m excited because Mom is always stressed-out when she comes home, and we are not allowed to touch her or hug her when she comes home from the doctors, because she’s worried," Adora said. "I totally understand that, but it’ll be nice, because now she won’t be as worried." 

As a doctor working on the front lines of the pandemic, Ruth has seen firsthand just how devastating COVID-19 can be, but she said she wasn’t as concerned about her kids until the delta variant began impacting their age group. After that, Ruth said, she became more strict on COVID-19 safety.

“So for me, this is how I get to give them their freedom back. This is how I get to take them to places they want to go," Ruth said. "This is how we get to do the things that we want to do that we haven’t done even when it was just the original COVID that wasn’t as bad for kids.” 

The  Maricopa County Public Health Department has been preparing for months to roll out the COVID-19 vaccine to this age group, said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the department’s medical director for disease control. 

National data suggests that about one-third of parents plan to vaccinate their children as soon as the Pfizer vaccine becomes available to them. With over 400,000 kids aged 5 to 11 in Maricopa County, the department estimates families of about 130,000 children like the Snedecors will seek vaccines in the first couple of weeks. 

“We have enough vaccines here in Maricopa County to vaccinate every single one of those children plus more," Sunenshine said. 

Getting vaccinated is now more important than ever since cases in the county are going up, instead of declining, Sunenshine added.

“One in four cases in Maricopa County are in children, so the reason we're seeing so much circulation in our community is because we have a whole group of kids, these 5 to 11 year olds that are unvaccinated and more likely to get infected," Sunenshine said. 

She also point out that while children tend to get milder illness, they can still pass it to one another and some kids can get severe symptoms from it such as long-COVID that can last for months as well as a heart condition, myocarditis, which individuals are 37 times more likely to get through the infection than from the vaccine, according to Sunenshine. 

But about a third of parents and guardians say they will “wait and see” how the vaccine is working before getting their young kids vaccinated, while another third say their kids won’t get vaccinated at all, according to  research from the Kaiser Family Foundation

Sunenshine assures families that the vaccine is safe for kids. 

“Kids are probably going to get a sore arm, it'll typically go away in a day or two, they might have some fever and some fatigue. But it is much less than what we see with adults. And importantly, there was not a single severe side effect in the clinical trial that was associated with the vaccine.” 

The possibility of a sore arm did make Adora a little nervous, and she just doesn't like shots in general, but she said she trusts the vaccine, and she was looking forward to feeling safer and the reward that her mom promised her for being brave: a hamster. 

When the big moment finally came, Violet closed her eyes. And then, within seconds, it was over. The shot didn't feel too bad, Violet said. 

“It kind of felt the same as when I got my ears pierced, except just, like, a tiny bit worse," Violet said. 

Big sister Adora said the experience was fine, but she felt a lot better once they were at the pet store to pick up their newest member of the family, Peanut Butter Snedecor. 

About a week after their first dose, Ruth said only one of the sisters felt a side effect after the vaccine — a sore arm that lasted one day — but otherwise the girls and Peanut Butter are all doing well.

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Rocio Hernandez was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2020 to 2022.