Health Southern Indiana

Jai’Lynn Doss was born prematurely. Complications from her birth caused lung issues that still affect her years later.

Her mom, Erica Doss, said that’s led the family to be more cautious during the coronavirus pandemic. They’ve skipped out on birthday parties, larger events and vacations.

“It wasn’t really that hard for us,” Doss said of the decision to get her daughter vaccinated. “This was something that we wanted to do for her, because her getting a cold is like us having pneumonia. So, it was never a second thought in my mind about whether or not we were getting her vaccinated.”

Federal regulators recommended Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 at the beginning of the month. Jai’Lynn became one of the first Southern Indiana children from that age group to receive the shot at a Floyd County Health Department youth vaccination clinic last week.

Doss said it’s like a huge weight has been lifted.

“I’m feeling relieved,” she said. “Not looking forward to doing too much more, but definitely feeling more comfortable going out to eat, maybe visiting with some family members and things like that.”

The Floyd County Health Department hosted its first youth COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Silver Street Park in New Albany on Nov. 6. Wednesday’s clinic at Indiana University Southeast was the county’s second event specifically for younger children.

Health Officer Dr. Tom Harris said they’re seeing good demand. There were nearly 140 appointments scheduled for the three-hour window, along with several walk-ins.

“I think some of it’s also being driven by the increased rate of significant illness in kids,” he said. “At the start of the summer back in June, they were less than 5% of the cases. And by the end of August, they were roughly 25% of the cases. So you saw a lot more kids actually getting sick with it.”

Bri Gilbert said the health risks of COVID were a factor in getting her kids vaccinated. They lost an older family member to the virus earlier in the pandemic, and the death was hard on her three kids.

But her decision was about more than that. Gilbert, a school counselor, is concerned about their education, as well.

“With me working in school, I definitely know the benefit of in-person learning versus eLearning,” she said. “And you can’t get any better than in-person learning. And so, we just want to make sure that we get them safe as possible and keep them in school as much as we can.”

New Albany Floyd County Schools — the county’s largest district — quarantined 10% of its student population after the first two weeks of classes.

Gilbert’s 10-year-old daughter, Reese, got her first vaccine dose at Floyd County’s youth clinic last Wednesday. Reese said it was nice to feel like she’s back on the road to normal.

“I feel way better, because now I know that I have less chance of getting it,” she said. “If I put the medicine in my body, then it’s going to help me more without getting COVID, so I don’t get it.”

Harris, the county’s health officer, said he was worried that vaccination uptake would be slow in kids Reese’s age. Adults ages 20 to 40 have the lowest vaccination rate of any demographic in the county. They’re likely to be the parents of children ages 5 to 11.

Harris said the county has about 6,000 children in that group.

“If a third of them get the vaccine, that’d be great,” he said. “That’s 2,000 children, 4,000 doses. If we get somewhere north of 800, then I think we’ve done an adequate job based on parental performance.”

The county inoculated about 400 kids in the first week of the clinics and is expecting a new shipment of 300 doses soon so it can host more.

“We want to emphasize now’s the time, if you’re on the fence about this, to get this thing to go away,” he said. “We need that population — the 20 to 40 — to get the shot, and we need them to vaccinate their children, too.”

Many young people at Floyd County’s clinic expressed a desire to get back to a normal life, without all the problems caused by the pandemic.

Porter Ramsey, 9, loves performing in theater. But his school didn’t put on any productions last year. He said he’s excited to act and dance in more plays in the future, if enough people get vaccinated to make it safe again.

Now that Porter has received his first dose, he said there’s one thing he wants to tell his friends who might be afraid of getting the shot.

“That it’s no big deal,” he said.

The Floyd County Health Department is holding its fourth youth vaccination clinic from 4-7 p.m. Monday at Silver Street Park.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.