LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Bryce Malone was a little nervous Saturday morning.
Bryce and his mother Jannetta White were among the first to arrive at Carter Traditional Elementary to get the 9-year-old his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
To help ease the nerves, the Kerrick Elementary student chose a Superman mask for today “because he’s brave”.
More children and their families joined them as the clinic officially opened at 10am. Some joked with a cast of mascots on hand to keep the mood light. A few picked up one of the free coloring pages intended as a distraction tool.
One by one, they sat down at tables in Carter’s cafeteria to get an opportunity that families had been waiting for months.
By the end of the weekend, more than 4,100 Jefferson County children between the ages of 5 and 11 are expected to receive their first COVID-19 shot as Kentucky’s largest school district makes its first large-scale vaccination campaign for its youngest students.
“It’s just one of those things that we’ve been waiting for — a lot of concern about our younger children and protecting them,” Eva Stone, the district health services manager, told Carter. “It’s just really exciting that this day has arrived.”
More: COVID vaccine for children under 12: what parents in Kentucky need to know
Children ages 5 to 11 became eligible for the COVID-19 vaccination earlier this month after being given the go-ahead from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Jefferson County Public Schools announced its two-day vaccination blitz shortly after.
While the weekend’s clinics were aimed at students ages 5 to 11, older kids could also sign up to take pictures. Eligible family members and staff members could also receive a booster shot.
The free clinics were so popular JCPS said on Friday that no more walk-ins are needed — a “wonderful problem to have,” Stone said on Saturday.
Including boosters and shots for older kids, JCPS expects to hand out nearly 5,000 shots across 24 locations by the end of the weekend.
Those vaccinated this weekend may experience some mild side effects, such as aches, headaches and a low-grade fever, Stone said. Any side effects should subside within a few days.
Background: Here’s How Kids Can Get the COVID-19 Vaccine in Louisville
Almost all JCPS students are now old enough to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Getting students vaccinated “is the surest way” back to a more normal school experience, Superintendent Marty Pollio told school board members earlier this week.
Vaccinations are “just another step that can help reduce transmission of COVID, not just in schools but in our community,” Stone said.
Fully vaccinated people do not need to be quarantined after exposure to COVID-19 if they have no symptoms.
Children vaccinated this weekend are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose – the start of the winter break.
When classes resume in January, JCPS will have thousands of additional students at a lower risk of missing classes due to quarantines.
“That’s very important for parents and families who have to work,” Stone says. “Kids need to be in school — personal learning, again, that’s the most important thing we can do to reduce the learning loss that has occurred in this pandemic.”
Related: Parents ready for the next steps as the COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for children
Children won’t be fully vaccinated for upcoming Thanksgiving celebrations, but one shot provides partial immunity, said Dr. John Richards.
Richards, a medical contact for SphereDx, the company that ran the vaccination clinics, said it’s important to “keep doing the right thing” for the upcoming holiday.
“Children are our future,” Richards said Saturday morning. “We absolutely have to protect them. But we also have to protect our loved ones and our elderly.”
The second round of vaccinations for those vaccinated this weekend will be held on December 4 and 5. A JCPS spokesperson said they have no future vaccination clinics planned at this time.
More: A look inside a Jefferson County high school as it adapts to COVID-19 education
Sitting at a table in Carter’s cafeteria after getting his first chance, Bryce said he was feeling “pretty good.” The shot didn’t hurt.
When asked if he thinks getting his second dose in a few weeks will be just as easy, he nods.
White, his mother, sat next to him and mused about what a fully vaccinated life would be like.
“Maybe we could go on a trip somewhere, skiing in Indiana,” she said.
“I want to go on top of a mountain of snow,” Bryce yelled in response.