Anchorage kids ages 5-11 get first shots of COVID vaccine at school district clinic

A boy in a mask gets a shot.
Ezekiel Risi gets a COVID-19 vaccine from Anchorage School District official Kale Recaido on Wednesday. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Anchorage families eager to get their young children a COVID-19 vaccine lined up outside of a school district clinic on Wednesday, a day after the federal government approved the shots for kids ages 5 through 11.

The Anchorage School District received 500 pediatric doses of the vaccine from the state on Wednesday, and interest to get a shot that day was high, said Nurse Kathy Bell, the district’s assistant director of Healthcare Services.

“We’ve been getting phone calls in our office all day long,” she said.

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A woman in a face masks holds up two vials of vaccine.
Nurse Kathy Bell, assistant director of Anchorage School District Healthcare Services, holds up two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to show the difference. The orange one is for kids ages 5-11 and a smaller dose, while the purple one is for older kids and adults. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

That high demand was clear with families waiting outside the Anchorage Education Center’s door two hours before the clinic even opened.

“I think it’s one of the most important things we can do to end the pandemic,” said Caitlin Risi, who brought her three children in to get vaccinated. “Words can’t express how glad I am that we’re here today. It’s like a weight off the shoulders, it really is.”

Risi said she and her husband got vaccinated as soon as they were eligible. With her kids getting the shots now, she said she feels a little safer sending them to school.

“It’s reassuring to know that even if there’s an exposure, their likelihood is that they’re not going to get sick,” she said. “Or if they do get sick, they’re just going to get a real mild case, and that’s a big deal.”

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Elizabeth Risi, age 5, gets a lollipop and sticker after her COVID-19 vaccine shot on Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 at Anchorage School District headquarters. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Bell said about .5 milliliters of the vaccine is mixed with a saline solution before it’s injected into people ages 12 and older. The younger kids get .2 milliliters of vaccine in their doses. She said the adult vaccine is about 95% to 98% effective, while the pediatric one is at 91%.

“So it’s a little bit less,” Bell said. “But I have to tell you that I just did some other research and one of our other vaccines that came out in the last few years, which was the MMR (Measles Mumps and Rubella) vaccine, that with two doses is only 85%. So with two doses of this pediatric vaccine, we’re at 91% and I think that’s fabulous.”

Of Risi’s three kids, 9-year-old Ezekiel was the first to get his vaccine. Ahead of the shot, he said he had one thing he was looking forward to.

“Not getting COVID,” he said and laughed.

Next, Ezekiel’s 7-year-old brother Malachi got the shot, followed by his 5-year-old sister Elizabeth. While the Risi children seemed worried a bout the shots, not everyone felt the same. School district officials walked around with candy and other goodies to cheer up the kids as they faced the needle.

Anchorage School District Superintendent Deena Bishop reassures children getting their COVID-19 vaccines. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Elizabeth Risi said now that she has a vaccine, she and her brothers will be able to do more activities.

“He can do fun things after,” she said. “We don’t know what kind of fun things. Mom hasn’t told us.”

Caitlin Risi said the family was headed to get ice cream. 

The district will continue this week’s clinic on Thursday and Friday from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m at the district office. Starting next week the clinic will be held Monday through Wednesday.

A family of four sits in chairs with masks on.
Anchorage mom Caitlin Risi with her kids (L-R) Elizabeth, Malachi and Ezekiel. All three kids received COVID-19 vaccines on Wednesday. (Wesley Early/Alaska Public Media)

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the Risi family’s last name. It is Risi, not Rise.

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Wesley Early covers municipal politics and Anchorage life for Alaska Public Media. Reach him at wearly@alaskapublic.org.

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