November 18, 2021
Liliama Alcantara-Barrios and her kids joined a line of families that stretched from the gymnasium door, down the hall and outside into the windy, chilly November evening. Her son Lucas, age 6, would be among 350 kids receiving their first COVID-19 vaccine at the Student Health Center vaccine clinic — the Country’s first large vaccination event for children 5 to 11 years old.
Alcantara-Barrios’ whole family were early supporters of the COVID-19 vaccine for adults — perhaps unsurprisingly; after all, Alcantara-Barrios is a nurse at the East County Health Center. And her sister, Bri Barrios Giron, is a medical assistant at the Student Health Center at Reynolds High School and has been administering the vaccine to teens for months.
Alcantara-Barrios said she had no concerns about the adult vaccine, which is approved under a federal Emergency Use Authorization. But still, when it came to giving a vaccine to her kids, she hesitated.
“I was nervous at first,” she said. “So I talked to a lot of the providers I work with, and I got to a place where I felt good about it. And Lucas has asthma, so he really needs it.”
Lucas’ little sister Brielle, who isn’t old enough yet for a vaccine, danced nearby as they waited for their aunt Bri to call them over. Their aunt pulled each kid in for a hug, and then set about her work. In a blink of an eye, Lucas was done (Brielle got a Band-Aid in solidarity).
“Thank you, tia,” Lucas said and waved before jetting off to see what goodies were displayed on the tables nearby.
Joshua Ellis, a first-grader at Patrick Lynch Elementary, waited in line with his dad, Floyd. Joshua squirmed, impatient to get to the business of celebrating his shot.
“And after my shot, I’m getting ice cream, and my dad and I are going to keep building a Lego robot,” he said. “It has six arms.”
Floyd Ellis said he felt confident the vaccine was safe and would protect his son. “I was more worried that they opened schools before the vaccine was available for kids,” he said.
Mohammed Hassan Mohammed also felt confident the vaccine would protect his kids. He has long been vaccinated and is now planning to get his booster shot. He was eager for the vaccine to become available for his two kids, Fahma and Hamza.
“I know it works and will help protect them,” he said. “This will make it easier to travel, so we don’t have to get tested all the time.”
Six-year-old Tasneem Najieb was not excited to get her shot; even after it was over — even with the lure of sweet rewards: cotton candy ice cream and hot chocolate with extra whipped cream. Her older brother Noah, who is in first grade, was only slightly more enthusiastic about the specter of dessert for dinner.
But their mom, Nadira, just hugged them and offered the staff an enthusiastic thanks.
“I support vaccines completely. My group of friends, we all have kids. We’ve all been vaccinated,” she said. “We want to put this all past us, get back to normalcy.”
For Nadira and her group, normal will be reflected in a series of seemingly simple events, like mask-free playdates with other vaccinated kids. Until that day comes, though, they’ll continue to wear masks around their friends indoors and enjoy outdoor adventures.
“This will help us just not feel so nervous,” she said.
Standing near the exit, Katie Strawn checked in on kids in the post-shot observation area and chatted with families as they prepared to leave — for ice cream and hot chocolate and for the steaming burritos being given out at the Burrito Bar truck just outside the door.
“We all went into medicine, community health and public health for a reason, for this,” said Strawn, the medical director for Multnomah County’s nine Student Health Centers. “It’s been a horrible two years. But to see this — the beginning of the end of COVID.”
All Multnomah County youth ages 5-19 can get vaccinated at any Student Health Center location. And click here to learn about other ways to get your COVID-19 vaccine.