Zoe Tu, a seventh grader in Brooklyn, likes to celebrate her birthday with Dulce de leche Haagen-Dazs ice cream cake. This year, her 12th was no exception, but the day was also marked by a delicacy of another kind: her Covid vaccination.
Zoe received the vaccination on August 2nd, the first time it became eligible, and it was accompanied by a $ 100 gift certificate that was presented at the Barclays Center as a vaccination incentive. (Her mother allowed her to spend it on anything she wanted.)
“The nurse was really excited to wish me a happy birthday,” recalls Zoe.
Zoe’s mother, Nicole Tu, said she told her daughter she could wait if she wanted. But Zoe said, “I knew I could get it the fastest. I was excited because I could feel more secure. “
Many birthdays are rites of passage, especially for young people. At 14 or 15, the door to high school opens; Turning 17 grants permission to view R-rated films; 18 confers the right to vote; and 21 is the legal age to buy alcohol in many states.
But since the beginning of May, the 12th birthday has had a new meaning, because the Food and Drug Administration has given the Pfizer BioNTech Covid vaccine an emergency approval for children aged 12 and over.
At least 52 percent of children ages 12-17 in the United States have received at least one dose of a vaccine, and about 40 percent are fully vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data from early September. Scientists say a decision on whether children under the age of 12 can get the syringes could be months away.
At least one school district in Culver City, California, has announced that eligible students must be given a Covid vaccine and more mandates could be given as the Delta variant leads to a significant increase in cases among young people. A recent poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 55 percent of Americans were in favor of compulsory vaccination for eligible students.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s foremost infectious disease expert, has stated that he supports such mandates for school children.
But parents are now going through a difficult moment where some children are being vaccinated while many others under the age of 12 do not. Some parents, including Ms. Tu, largely limit their children to indoor play dates with vaccinated friends.
After Zoe got the shot, her mother posted on Instagram to mark the moment: “Turning twelve in 2021 means a different kind of celebration,” Ms. Tu wrote with splash and birthday cake emojis.
Zoe’s vaccination was a milestone for her parents too. “On her birthday, we are one step closer to safety because our whole family can be vaccinated,” added Ms. Tu. “It’s a new chapter for us.”
9/4/2021, 3:55 p.m. ET
For some young people, vaccination makes their birthday even more exciting. Many spent the past year isolated from friends, longing for normalcy, and limiting their friendships mainly to phones and computers.
Several studies have shown that teenagers’ mental health deteriorates during the pandemic, including attacks of anxiety and depression. Getting a Covid vaccine offers some teenagers a promise to be more sociable.
Some students didn’t want needles to spoil their actual birthdays. Sebastian Holst, 12, from Brooklyn, was relieved that his parents had scheduled his vaccination appointment for several days after his birthday in May. That way, he could have a Zoom birthday party with friends, go for a walk with his mom, and enjoy his dad’s tacos without worrying about possible side effects.
“Getting vaccinations doesn’t feel good, but I know I have to, so I’ll suck it up,” he said.
Driving to the Javits Center in Manhattan later that week to get his shot brought a burst of excitement as he envisioned a new school year that could be better than last year. Sebastian’s school offered a mix of face-to-face and distance learning last year, and on days away he missed meeting friends in the hallways. And distance learning through Zoom eliminated the home-school divide, he said.
Understand US vaccination and mask requirements
- Vaccination rules. On August 23, the Food and Drug Administration fully approved Pfizer-BioNTech’s coronavirus vaccine for people aged 16 and over, paving the way for increased mandates in both the public and private sectors. Private companies are increasingly demanding vaccines for employees. Such mandates are legally permissible and have been confirmed in legal challenges.
- Mask rules. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July recommended that all Americans, regardless of vaccination status, wear masks in public places indoors in areas with outbreaks, reversing the guidelines offered in May. See where the CDC guidelines would apply and where states have implemented their own mask guidelines. The battle over masks is controversial in some states, with some local leaders defying state bans.
- College and Universities. More than 400 colleges and universities require a vaccination against Covid-19. Almost all of them are in states that voted for President Biden.
- schools. Both California and New York City have introduced vaccination mandates for educational staff. A survey published in August found that many American parents of school-age children are against mandatory vaccines for students but are more likely to support masking requirements for students, teachers and staff who are not vaccinated.
- Hospitals and medical centers. Many hospitals and large health systems require their employees to have a Covid-19 vaccine, due to rising case numbers due to the Delta variant and persistently low vaccination rates in their communities, even within their workforce.
- New York City. Proof of vaccination is required by workers and customers for indoor dining, gyms, performances, and other indoor situations, though enforcement doesn’t begin until September 13th. Teachers and other educational workers in the city’s vast school system are required to have at least one vaccine dose by September 27, without the option of weekly testing. City hospital staff must also be vaccinated or have weekly tests. Similar rules apply to employees in New York State.
- At the federal level. The Pentagon announced that it would make coronavirus vaccinations compulsory for the country’s 1.3 million active soldiers “by mid-September at the latest. President Biden announced that all civil federal employees would need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or undergo regular tests, social distancing, mask requirements and travel restrictions.
Sebastian said he was one of the first friends of his to get a vaccine and the relief overwhelmed his fear when it was over. He texted friends to ease their worries.
“I knew it was better to get a small, sharp needle than Covid,” he said.
For many, there is also fanfare in the actual experience. Some young people were given their Covid vaccines in places that were emotionally meaningful and others were happy to welcome the free items given as an incentive to be vaccinated.
For Zoe, the items that were handed out at the Barclays Center vaccination center were other gifts: she received a Nets T-shirt, an “I got the shot” sticker, and a gift card for Gap and Brandy Melville clothes spent for the new school year.
Myles Knollmuller, who turned 12 in July, got the vaccine shortly after his birthday at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum. He found it upsetting to visit a place he loved with its water play area converted into a medical site.
“It was very strange because that was a place I went so often when I was younger to have fun and be with people and now I wanted to get vaccinated against a global pandemic,” said Myles.
Myles spent part of the summer at camp in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where some of his friends had already been vaccinated. When he turned 12 and partied with cake for breakfast, his friends cheered that he would soon be getting his syringe too.
As he watched the nurse prepare a syringe, Myles was nervous about the needle stick but rolled up his sleeve excitedly. “I had a painful feeling in my stomach but it went away,” he said. “Then they said, ‘Wow, nice job, you’re halfway vaccinated.'”