Thirteen-year-old Rylan Hayes seized the opportunity to be one of the first kids in Hawaii to get a COVID-19 shot Wednesday after federal health authorities gave final approval to lower the age of eligibility for the Pfizer vaccine to 12.

After more than a year of online classes and missing friends, the shot was a relief for both Hayes and his mother.

“I told him I was going to cry; I was so excited,” Jennifer Hayes said, placing her arm around her son outside of The Queen’s Health Systems vaccine clinic at the Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu. “It’s such a relief to get this.”

Rylan Hayes, 13, and his mother Jennifer Hayes smile after Rylan got the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Eleni Avendaño/Civil Beat

The Kailua Intermediate School student said he has followed the news of COVID-19 vaccine development closely this year. He initially felt some apprehension about the vaccines, but those feelings disappeared when he realized getting a shot was a step toward going back to in-person classes and traveling to see relatives this summer.

“I miss actually going into school, seeing my friends and talking,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to learn in online school. I’m learning, but I’m also not learning.”

Hawaii began distributing the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to the children after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave final approval to a decision earlier this week by the Food and Drug Administration to lower the age of eligibility. The vaccine was previously  authorized for those at least 16 years old.

It’s the first vaccine approved for people 12 and older. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines have received emergency use authorization for adults 18 and older.

More than 70 kids between 12 and 15 years old signed up for a Pfizer shot appointment at the Blaisdell clinic Wednesday, according to Sean Ibara, a spokesman for The Queen’s Health Systems.

Everett Pham, a 12-year-old student at Punahou School, said making the decision to get one was quick and easy.

“I wanted to get the vaccine because I wanted to travel and be able to see family,” he said. “It feels like everything has changed and nothing is back to normal, and getting this shot makes me feel like it’ll get back to normal.”

12-year-old Everett Pham with his father Julius Pham after Everett received the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at the Blaisdell Concert Hall.
Everett Pham, 12, sits with his father Julius Pham after Everett received the Pfizer vaccine Wednesday at the Blaisdell Concert Hall in Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

His father, Dr. Julius Pham, chair of The Queen’s Health Systems COVID-19 committee and department of quality and patient safety, watched proudly as he supervised his son’s shot.

Pham said the results of a Pfizer/BioNTech clinical trial among 2,260 12-to-15-year-old participants showed the vaccine was well tolerated and highly effective.

“Safety is definitely not a concern,” Pham said. “They found 100% efficacy which is pretty amazing because that’s higher than the adults. Every family has to make that decision on their own, but for us it was a no-brainer.”

The CDC also gave the green light Wednesday for the COVID-19 vaccine to be delivered at the same time as other shots that children get routinely before school. Until now, it was recommended to wait at least two weeks as a precaution and to be able to monitor side effects from COVID-19 vaccines.

Side effects that children experienced were similar to those felt by adults, such as sore arms, fevers, aches and chills that indicate the body’s immune system is at work.

In a separate press conference Wednesday, Gov. David Ige said Hawaii will not require students or school staff to get the vaccine, but he encouraged everyone to consider getting inoculated.

“It’s the quickest way for us to get all of us back to the new normal, when we can get vaccination levels high enough to achieve herd immunity here and really reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 in our communities,” he said.

Pham said he and his friends don’t talk much about vaccines, but he would encourage them to get one if the topic comes up.

“It’s just like any normal shot,” he said. “It’s just a pinch; it doesn’t really hurt.”

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