Tears, joy as first young kids receive COVID-19 doses at Mall of America

A nurse puts a bandaid on a child's arm.
Nurse Haydee Boyd gives Lily McNamee, 8, the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Mall of America, as part of the rollout for vaccinations approved for children aged 5 to 11 Wednesday.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

Updated: 12:27 p.m. Thursday | Posted: 5:26 p.m. Wednesday

There were a few tears and a whole lot of joy at the Mall of America Wednesday as some of Minnesota's youngest residents got their first COVID-19 vaccines. The shots, tailor-made for children, are now available for kids 5-to-11 years old after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the Pfizer vaccine for this age group earlier this week.

Colorful balloon arches welcomed kids and parents, who took selfies with their “I Got My Shot” stickers.

Laura Taken-Holtze brought her five-year-old daughter, Regina, who proudly displayed the “Frozen”-themed Band-Aid she got to pick out after getting her shot.

It was a huge day for their family.

"It's amazing. I kind of want to cry. I'm so excited,” said Taken-Holtze. Regina has been hospitalized a couple of times for breathing issues, so getting the shot “is a huge relief,” said her mom.

Other parents expressed similar emotions, saying the milestone feels like the beginning of the end of their virus ordeal.

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A parent and child pose near a sign about getting vaccinated.
Laura Taken-Holtze and her daughter Regina Taken-Holtze, 5, pose for a photo after Regina received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic at the Mall of America.
Nicole Neri for MPR News

For parents who are trying to book a vaccine appointment, here’s what to expect going forward.

How much vaccine does Minnesota have for kids in the 5-11 age group?

State officials say they've already gotten a lot of vaccine shipped in and they will be getting more shipments through the weekend. They estimate they will have total of around 255,000 doses just in this first week or so — enough to cover about half the kids in this age group in Minnesota.

This won't be a situation like we saw in the spring where you had to wake up at odd hours to look for online appointments.

The limiting factor will really be labor — are there enough people to give shots? The state says that more than 1,000 providers will be involved in this effort — and that includes places that kids normally go like schools. The site at the Mall of America will be doing about 1,500 shots daily once it's running at full capacity.

Pharmacies are accepting appointments starting this weekend.

And large health care systems around the state like Mayo, Fairview and HealthPartners have begun taking appointments that will start later this week and into next week. CentraCare announced Friday that they will begin administering the vaccine for the age group next week, and are accepting appointments at the hospital system’s various locations. Walk-in to a COVID-19 vaccine clinic at CentraCare South Point is also open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays.

A parent or guardian must provide consent and be present at any immunization appointment.

Some parents may not rush to get their kids vaccinated. How are state officials addressing safety concerns?

The first thing to know is that the data overwhelmingly show that this vaccine is safe and effective, and side effects are very mild. It's not just good at preventing serious illness in kids, it’s also very good at preventing any illness at all.

But doctors who spoke at the Mall of America Wednesday said it's perfectly reasonable for parents to have questions — and they should ask their child’s doctor if they do. The state has created a website to answer questions.

The physicians also pushed back on the idea that kids don't get gravely ill from the virus.

Nationally, the virus has affected thousands of children, said Dr. Sheldon Berkowitz, a pediatrician and president of the Minnesota Academy of Pediatrics.

"Over 6 million children and youth in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19 — over 150,000 in Minnesota alone, with more than 8000 children in that 5- to 11-year-old range being hospitalized with COVID-19 around the country,” he said. “Sadly, over 500 children and youth have died from COVID-19."

Health experts also say getting this vaccine will let kids return to their normal lives — potentially unmasked and without the worries of quarantines if they are exposed.

What can parents expect next?

State officials urged parents to be patient. There will be plenty of vaccines to go around, but it may take a day or two for the kinks in the system to be worked out.

And here's a tip: If you're getting your child vaccinated Thursday or Friday, you should know that three weeks from now, that second dose falls during the Thanksgiving holiday. Officials said parents should to try to stick as closely to that three-week window for the second shot as possible — but that it doesn't have to be precisely three weeks.

Correction (Nov. 4, 2021): Laura Taken-Holtze's and Regina Taken-Holtze's last names were misspelled in a caption in an earlier version of this story. The caption has been updated.