A new rite of passage? Teens opt for vaccinations in the hope of returning to ‘normal’

Hawaii Tribune

When some kids turn 16, they get a car.

On her 16th birthday next month, Sophia Wilson will get something different — a shot of COVID-19 vaccine.

She’s one of many eligible East Hawaii students who have opted to get an inoculation against the novel corornavirus.

Pfizer’s vaccine has been approved for individuals 16 and up, while vaccines from Moderna and Johnson &Johnson have been authorized for those 18 and older.

The state’s vaccination plan initially prioritized distribution of vaccines in two phases, but eligibility on the Big Island expanded to everyone 16 and older earlier this month.

Wilson, a 10th-grade student at Kamehameha Schools Hawaii, plays soccer and has a tournament this summer on the mainland.

“I want to make sure I’m protected while I’m on those trips and surrounded by new people,” she said.

Wilson, who also runs track, said her school requires student athletes to wear a mask while participating in sports.

“Hopefully, by getting a vaccine, they’ll open up parameters to allow students to play without wearing a mask.”

Kalena Kelii, 18, a senior at Hilo High School, received her first vaccination on April 3, just days after vaccine eligibility expanded to everyone 16 and older.

“I personally wanted to do it as soon as possible because I will be starting college in the coming year, and know I will probably be going to in-person classes,” she said. “I wanted to be prepared for being around other people. I also wanted to get my vaccine because I have family I wanted to protect.”

Friend and classmate Lena Andrews-Mendiola, 17, also a senior at Hilo High, signed up to get her first shot this past Saturday.

She decided to get vaccinated to protect her family, but she also plays taiko and wanted to feel safer while performing.

“When we play, we have to wear a mask,” Andrews-Mendiola said. “It’s hard, because we jump a lot. It’s hard to breathe with the mask.”

Waiakea High School senior Lichen Forster, 17, received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on April 3 and got her second dose Saturday.

“I really have not left my house pretty much at all since (March 2020),” Forster said. “I’ve seen people maybe once every few months outside. I’m a very social person, and I’ve not really gotten to do that.”

Being inoculated also will be beneficial when she attends college in fall.

“I think it’s the right thing to do, as well,” Forster said.

Carlo Daquioag, 17, a senior at Pahoa High and Intermediate School, plans to get vaccinated but hasn’t yet.

Having a vaccine will allow for the social interaction he’s been missing out on during the pandemic, he said.

Daquioag also plans to attend college out-of-state, and said being vaccinated will remove some of the extra steps that might come with traveling.

“I don’t think there’s anything to lose by taking the vaccine, so I might as well take it,” he said.

The students who spoke to the Tribune-Herald said they did not have many hesitations about getting vaccinated.

“I know that there has been a lot of testing,” said Wilson, whose mother is an administrator at Hilo Medical Center. “With modern day technology, I’m pretty confident it will be good, and (there) won’t be any long-term effects.”

Kelii said she was confident about being inoculated because most of her family members, including her parents and older siblings, already have received their vaccines.

“As far as I was concerned, the risk of what my reaction would be to the shot wouldn’t be too extreme,” she said. “I was really confident about taking this.”

Kelii said her friends have expressed interest in getting vaccinated because they want to socialize or go to the beach without additional risks.

“I tried to do my best to remind people that someone’s side effect or reaction to the vaccine won’t be the same as (theirs),” Kelii said. “Making a judgment off someone you know could be helpful, but don’t completely rely on it as well.”

Forster said she had minor concerns, “but I do trust the science. … There are worries, but I’m not that afraid.”

Forster said her parents both are teachers who received the Moderna vaccine last month.

“If they got it, and they’re OK with it, I feel pretty comfortable,” she said.

Daquioag, too, said he was confident about getting inoculated.

Among his peers, however, reaction to the vaccines is split. Some will be getting vaccinated, and some currently are reluctant to do so, he said.

Hawaii Tribune

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