Mason Keller had the perfect analogy for the pain he felt when he received the COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday.
“The shot felt like I forgot to wear green for St. Patrick’s Day and someone took the squeezing a little too far,” said the smiling seven-year-old, moving his arm up and down to ease the discomfort.
Mason, a student at Guerneville Elementary School, was one of dozens of Sonoma County schoolchildren who received pediatric COVID-19 immunizations at the county’s first school-based vaccine clinic. The clinic took place in the multi-purpose room of the school.
Mason’s sister Fionna, 7, also a Guerneville School student, shed some tears during her shot. But both seemed to appreciate the importance of being poked, especially Mason.
“It’s an opportunity for COVID-19 … it’s a disease that can sometimes kill people,” he said. “It’s less deadly for children, but it can still have consequences.”
The children’s mother, Jolene Keller, received her second COVID-19 vaccination last May and said her entire family, including her husband and an older son, have all been vaccinated.
“I’m a little less concerned, especially since they’re around Grandma,” she said, adding that their grandmother, who lives in Santa Rosa, picks up the two kids after school and babysits them during the week.
Tuesday’s clinic in Guerneville, which ran from 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., was hosted by the Sonoma County Office of Education and county public health officials. Tuesday there was a separate clinic at Jefferson Elementary School in Cloverdale, from 3 pm to 6 pm
More clinics are scheduled this week in Santa Rosa, Occidental, Healdsburg, Petaluma and Windsor. They come less than a week after federal health officials authorized the emergency use of a smaller dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children ages 5 to 11.
Guerneville School District superintendent Dana Pedersen said Tuesday’s clinic was the first of four opportunities for West County parents to have their children vaccinated. A clinic will be held on Wednesday at Harmony Elementary School in Occidental and two more clinics are scheduled for next week at Brook Haven School in Sebastopol, she said.
About 40 people, mostly children, had signed up to receive COVID-19 shots on Tuesday. Walk-ins and older children and adults were welcome, as clinic staff had about 250 doses of Pfizer vaccine available. Pedersen said the clinic’s organizers hope to administer 250 doses to the three clinics on Wednesday and next week.
“I’m excited, it’s been a long wait,” Pedersen said, adding that children vaccinated today will be fully vaccinated in time for the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
The locations of the vaccine clinics in the school were chosen with health equality in mind, in schools with a high percentage of free and limited lunchtime participation, lower vaccination rates, and a significant number of students whose primary language is not English.
Medical personnel from West County Health Centers, the largest primary care provider in West County, were on hand to administer the vaccine, including pediatricians who helped answer any questions parents may have about the safety of the vaccine.
Unlike adult vaccination clinics, many of the children vaccinated Tuesday spent their mandatory 15 minutes observing by painting their faces, eating churros or contributing to an art installation outside the school’s multipurpose room.
The activities were organized by Raizes Collective, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit that is part of the local, nationwide effort to address the racial and ethnic inequalities of the pandemic, particularly in the local Latino community. The virus has disproportionately affected local Latinos, who are more likely to face viral infections, hospitalization and death.
Gabriel Machabanski, health equality program manager for Raizes Collective, said the goal was to create a “safe, welcoming and engaging” space. He said some in the Latino community, especially undocumented migrants, often have a distrust of government institutions that stem from long-standing systemic racism.
Parents who have been hesitant about vaccines themselves are often even more hesitant about getting their children vaccinated, he said. “We are here to make them feel safe and welcome,” he said.
But Javier Montaño and his wife Mayra Montañno from Guerneville didn’t need any persuasion to get their sons Oscar (8) and Cesar (6) vaccinated. The couple, both vaccinated, learned about the vaccine clinic through ParentSquare.
“We vaccinated them to create a safer environment for other children and the community,” Javier Montaño said in Spanish. “And so this whole COVID thing could go away.”
Erin Duckhorn of Sebastopol got emotional when her daughter Charlotte, 7, got the shot with barely a shudder.
“We’ve been waiting for this for so long, she’s as excited as I am,” Duckhorn said, his eyes blurry. “I just think it’s our responsibility to our community, and it’s the only way to get normal life back — I’m just relying on science.”
When asked what the injection was for, Charlotte replied with certainty and confidence: “COVID-19 is a virus you can get. It can make people sick and even kill you. And you have to wear a mask.”
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.