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Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, in Brattleboro, Vt., held its first COVID-19 vaccine clinic for children 5-11 years-old on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021.

BRATTLEBORO — Young children filed in to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital on Saturday afternoon, becoming some of the first kids in Windham County to receive their COVID-19 vaccine.

Almost 11 months since the first Pfizer vaccine was rolled out to people in the medical community, children ages 5 to 11 are now eligible to get their chance at the shot. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 576 children under the age of 18 have died from the virus.

Henry Richards, 9, of Brattleboro, was one of the first children to get the vaccine shot at BMH. While waiting for the shot, Henry said he was excited to finally receive the vaccine.

“It was kinda annoying,” said Henry. “I was the last person in my family that didn’t get it. I felt like I was left out in some ways.”

Henry added that he is happy that he will have full immunity in the next six weeks and thinks this is one of the last hurdles when fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Phoebe Wagner, 9, from Dummerston, also received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Saturday. She said she was thrilled earlier in the week when she found out that her mom had reserved one of the last appointments during the first day of the children’s clinic. Phoebe said she hated the period between when her parents were vaccinated and the moment she was able to get her shot.

“I was a little nervous and my arm hurts but I'm happy. It feels good to know that I am better protected and can help protect my brother, who can't get the vaccine because he's 4,” said Phoebe. “I wanted the vaccine when my parents got it.  I'm glad the scientists made sure it was safe for kids but it would have been nice to have it sooner. I am really happy that I can feel a little safer at school and visiting my grandparents.”

Phoebe added that other children should get the shot. "Just do it, even though it's a little scary," she said. "When they give you the shot, don't look at it and think about something else, something that makes you happy. It's all over really quick."

Kathleen McGraw, chief medical officer at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, stressed the importance of the vaccine for children.

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“Although the risk of serious disease and death from COVID-19 is lower in young children than in adults, the virus has had a significant impact on young people, requiring thousands of stays in hospitals and intensive care units,” said McGraw. “COVID-19 has also caused long-term physical complications for children, as well as emotional and mental health issues, and unprecedented interruptions in schooling.”

Elizabeth Richards, Henry’s mother and a pediatrician at Brattleboro Primary Care, was happy for her child to get the vaccine.

“As a practicing pediatrician, I strongly recommend that children ages 5 and older get the newly-approved COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible. It is both safe and highly effective, and the vaccine plays a crucial role in protecting your children and your entire family,” said Richards. “As a mom, I am excited that now all of my children will have great protection from COVID-19 and will also be less likely to spread the disease to others. Now we can look forward to returning to a more normal schedule of school and fun activities, which is so important for both children and parents."

The Pfizer vaccine will be available to children locally at BMH during a series of pediatric vaccination clinics on Saturday afternoons. In addition, registered patients of Brattleboro Primary Care can receive their shots there.

“This vaccine provides strong, safe protection from COVID-19. I encourage parents and guardians who may have questions or concerns to talk with their pediatrician, school nurse, or local pharmacist to learn more about how it works and the importance of getting their youngsters vaccinated,” said McGraw.

Windham Southeast Superintendent Mark Speno called news of 5- to 11-year-olds now being eligible for COVID-19 vaccinations "super exciting." A vaccination clinic for the age group and those in need of booster shots happened Tuesday at Green Street School and another will be held Friday at Academy School.

Speno said he's "pretty happy" with the Vermont Department of Health's ability to schedule the clinics so quickly after federal approval came last week.

"If you're vaccinated and determined to be a close contact, you don't have to quarantine so that's huge," he said. "You get to continue to live your life normally."

Speno has seen the effect of vaccinating students at the high school, where less quarantines were needed. On the other hand, classrooms in elementary schools have been shut down due to the identification of close contacts.

Reformer staff writer Chris Mays contributed to this story.