Annabelle Valdez

Annabelle Valdez, 12, holds up her vaccination card on Wednesday after being inoculated against COVID-19 at the City of Nogales Recreation Center.

Annabelle Valdez stood outside the Nogales Recreation Center on Wednesday afternoon, only a couple of hours after finding out that she was finally eligible for the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19.

“I’m nervous. I don’t like needles,” the 12-year-old said as she prepared to go inside the building with her mother Rosemary and take the jab to her arm. Still, she added: “I’m excited to be one of the first ones.”

Indeed, Valdez was among the very first 12-to-15-year-olds to receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Santa Cruz County after the Centers for Disease Control deemed it safe for the younger age group on Wednesday.

The Mariposa Community Health Center, which has been inoculating local residents with Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, had already scheduled a Pfizer vaccination clinic for that day, which made it perfect timing for families like Valdez’s who were anxious to have the younger family members protected from the virus as soon as possible.

Dr. Eladio Pereira, MCHC’s chief medical officer, stood excitedly beside the mother-daughter pair as his team officially expanded its inoculation services for yet another segment of the population.

“We got the green light, so we’re starting right away and we’re doing whatever we need to do,” Pereira said.

While his staff offered the shot to tweens and teens on a walk-in basis on Wednesday afternoon, Pereira said that Friday will mark the first full day for children ages 12 and over to receive the Pfizer vaccine at the Nogales Rec Center from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

After that, the vaccination clinics for ages 12-17 will be held at the same location on May 17, 18 and 19 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and on May 21 from 8 a.m. to noon.

Residents can register for an appointment online, or by calling the county’s COVID-19 hotline at (520) 375-7626. Walk-ins will also be accepted at the Nogales Rec Center.

When a child comes in for a COVID-19 vaccination, Pereira said, it’s preferred that they be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. Minors do not need an ID, but parents will need to fill out a consent form and an attestation confirming that the youth is of age to receive the vaccine.

Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director, said authorities are prioritizing the Pfizer vaccines for kids ages 12-17, since the county also has Moderna and Johnson & Johnson doses for adults 18 and over.

“Not to say that somebody else couldn’t get it, but we want to prioritize that age group because those are the only ones available to them,” Terrell said of Pfizer for the younger kids.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Pereira said, MCHC and the county had a combined total of more than 4,000 Pfizer doses, which they expected to distribute on Friday and the following week as both first and second doses. The Pfizer shot was made available for people ages 16 and 17 in Santa Cruz County in late April, so some teens in that age group are now ready for their second dose.

Vaccination turnout

Terrell estimated that there are close to 4,000 people in the 12-15 category in Santa Cruz County, but said it was difficult to predict how high the demand would be within that age group.

He noted that vaccination turnout for 16-to-17-year-olds had been lower than they had expected, and hoped that the new age group would have a better turnout.

Pereira speculated that the low demand for the 16-17 age group could be the result of several factors.

“I know parents have been reluctant to vaccinate themselves or the children because of the school events like graduations and other end-of-year activities,” Pereira said, adding that people don’t want to be experiencing the possible flu-like side effects during these festivities.

“I also suspect that was related (to the fact that) many of those children were vaccinated elsewhere,” he said in reference to vaccination sites further north that had the Pfizer vaccines available before Santa Cruz County.

Nogales resident Rick Cañez said that was the case for one of his 17-year-old family members, who chose to get vaccinated at the University of Arizona state-run vaccination site a while back.

Now, his 13-year-old daughter is one of the few in his family waiting to get vaccinated. And although she’s currently feeling under the weather after falling sick with another virus, Cañez said he plans to get her vaccinated as soon as she overcomes it.

“Maybe by Friday, if she’s feeling a lot better,” he said.

Rosemary Valdez, who took her daughter Annabelle to get vaccinated as soon as she heard the news of her eligibility, said she was motivated to get her entire family protected after she fell sick with COVID-19 herself last year.

“I wouldn’t want anybody else in my family to go through anything like that,” Rosemary said, adding that her daughter has close contact with her elderly grandparents, so it was important that everyone be inoculated.

Danitza Garcia said she and her husband planned to take their 13-year-old son for his vaccine on Friday. For them, it wasn’t only about ensuring their son’s health, but also about protecting those around him who may not be vaccinated yet.

“I believe that the earlier we all get vaccinated, the earlier we will try to have the kids go back to school,” she said, adding that it was hard for her son, who attends Little Red School, to be in online learning for so long. “I’m a firm believer that if we all put our part, we will hopefully try to go back to normal sooner.”

As for those who may have doubts and concerns about vaccinating their kids, Pereira said that MCHC pediatricians were educating patients during regular visits, and are also on-site at the Pfizer vaccination clinics to answer any last-minute questions.

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