Big turnout for first in series of free middle school vaccine events

May 26, 2021
DeAndre White gets COVID vaccine from Charleston County School District nurse Maureen Counasse at Laing Middle School.
Tenth grader DeAndre White gets his first COVID-19 shot from Charleston County School District nurse Maureen Counasse. He's been attending school virtually as a precaution and looks forward to returning in person next fall. Photos by Sarah Pack

Katherine Nguyen, 15, was eager to get her COVID-19 vaccine at an event open to the public at Laing Middle School in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. “Most of my friends are already vaccinated.”

Her brother Thomas, 13 — not so much. “I don’t like needles.”

Both came with their mother, Minhthu Nguyen, to get their first shots of the Pfizer vaccine. It’s the only one currently authorized by the federal government for people 12 and up. Moderna’s vaccine may become available to kids 12 to 17 in July.

“I’m so excited,” Minhthu Nguyen said. “We’ve been waiting for this.”

Baid-Aids on a table at vaccination event. 
Bandages ready to go on arms after vaccinations.

And fortunately for her son, getting the shot was much less frightening than he feared. “I didn’t feel anything,” Thomas said.

The vaccine event in Laing Middle School’s gym was the first in a series that will run through June 3 in middle schools around Charleston County. The school district is working with MUSC Children’s Health, which provides the vaccine and support staff. School nurses give the shots. You can register online, but you don’t have to. Anyone eligible can just show up and get vaccinated.

Allison Eckard, M.D., division chief for pediatric infectious diseases at the Medical University of South Carolina, was happy to see people lined up at Laing. About 370 were vaccinated in a three-hour period. Most were kids were 12 to 15 years old, but there were also older students, parents and other people who came for the convenience of getting vaccinated at the school.

"This has been such an amazing partnership, unique to this area,” Eckard said, referring to her team’s work with the Charleston County School District. “We talk to people all around the country, and we don’t see many partnerships like this. This facilitates the children getting vaccinated and allows us to protect those children and their families, not only from COVID but from related conditions like MIS-C.”

MIS-C stands for multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. It’s a rare but dangerous COVID complication. MUSC Children’s Health has treated almost 30 children for MIS-C, including three who needed life support, and was first in the country to use the treatment remestemcel-L in a clinical trial for kids with the syndrome.

DeAndre White knows COVID is nothing to mess with. The tenth grader at Early College High School in downtown Charleston has been attending school virtually as a precaution. Getting the first of two shots gets him closer to returning to class in person and enjoying other activities he’s been missing. “Definitely being around friends and family and having get-togethers, things like that.”

Thomas Nguyen, 13, gets COVID vaccine from nurse Kim Edwards of the Charleston County School District. 
Thomas Nguyen, 13, gets his first shot, which he was not looking forward to. Afterward, he said he was pleasantly surprised by the fact that it wasn't painful.

The district has scheduled second doses at the same middle schools starting in mid-June. DeAndre’s mother, Althea White, said they’ll be back.

“I think everybody should get vaccinated. There’s a lot of false information going out, and some people are very afraid of getting the shot. When I went to do my yearly checkup, my doctor told me everybody thinks it’s a live virus they’re putting in you, but it’s not.”

Nurse Danielle Lupton talks with student Emilee Haas. 
Wando High School student Emily Haas talks with nurse Danielle Lupton before getting her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Emilee's mother also got vaccinated at the Laing event.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says none of the COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the United States contains a live virus, and people who have been vaccinated cannot shed the coronavirus.

But like any vaccine, the shots can cause side effects – including a sore arm. Nia Haas, who came to Laing with her 16-year-old daughter, was a little worried about that. “Emilee has an exam tomorrow, so she got the shot in her left arm.”

Emilee said she delayed getting vaccinated because she was concerned about side effects, which can include not only arm pain but also tiredness, muscle aches and other short-term issues. But the Wando High School 10th grader decided it was worth it.

“All my friends have it already, so I was like, maybe it’s time. I think overall, I’ve always wanted to get it. There’s nothing to be scared of. If you’re scared of shots in general, it isn’t bad.”

Student Katherine Nguyen, 15, gets her first COVID-19 vaccine. 
Katherine Nguyen, 15, gets her first COVID-19 shot. She says most of her friends have already been vaccinated.

Her mother appreciated the convenience of the vaccine event. “When my husband got his shot two weeks ago, he had trouble just finding a place that had Pfizer. We wanted Pfizer. So when I got the email from the school district on Friday that said MUSC was going to be here, we said, ‘Let’s go.’”

That kind of enthusiasm has Eckard looking forward to a safer — and easier — return to school for kids next fall. “We’re really excited. We always have children’s best interests at heart,” she said.

“We’re constantly reviewing data and considering the pros and risks of anything we do. It’s clear that getting vaccinated is safe and effective in preventing COVID-19 and preventing you from passing it on to others. Anybody who’s eligible, including children, we encourage them to get vaccinated.”

Nguyen and her two children left the vaccination event with a sense of relief. “We are blessed none of us got COVID, and we are healthy, and now we are vaccinated,” the mother, who is also a pharmacist, said.

Katherine, a 10th grader at Academic Magnet High School, said the process was quicker and easier than she expected. “I’m happy to do my part to help all of us overcome the pandemic.”

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