'We're going on offense to protect children': UF Health holds vaccination clinic

Gershon Harrell
The Gainesville Sun

Cars lined up outside of the University of Florida's Phillips Center parking garage where five stations were set up to give children ages 5-11 long-awaited COVID-19 Pfizer BioNTech vaccinations on Wednesday. 

Harman Kaur, a second-year resident in the UF Health pediatrics program, knelt down at eye level with Ian, 6, and his brother Ethan, 9. She asked them if they had ever been injected before. 

"Yes," Ethan said calmly. 

Ian let out a loud "ow!" as the shot was administered and he wasn't alone. At almost every tent, a health professional tried to soothe a child as he or she received the medicine shown to minimize the risk of severe infection. 

There were 240 kids scheduled to be vaccinated through UF Health's Screen, Test and Protect effort, a collaboration with the Florida Department of Health in Alachua County. In just one short hour after the clinic opened at 2 p.m., the health practitioners had vaccinated 71 children. 

The vaccine was approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 29. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention approved the vaccine on Nov. 2  and gave emergency use authorization. 

Miles Watkins, 6, gets a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination event for children ages 5 to 11 in the parking garage of the Phillips Center in Gainesville on Wednesday.

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One parent: 'Exhausted of having to worry'

Elecia Crumpton, parent of Ethan and Ian, said she was relieved when she heard that the Pfizer vaccination was finally available to children. 

"I am really exhausted of having to worry about whether or not my kids are going to get sick, and I felt good about getting the vaccination booked," Crumpton said. 

Crumpton said the vaccine offers relief because she is a single mom and the responsibility falls on her to take care of her two boys when they get sick. 

"Every time the kids would have symptoms we'd have to...quarantine. It was very inconvenient, very scary, very high stress. And it's just kind of an added level of stress on top of an already challenging situation," Crumpton said. 

Fred Guyer, a pediatrician with UF Health Shands Hospital, said that it feels great to be out vaccinating kids. 

"I feel like we're going on offense to protect the children instead of playing defense for a year and a half. So this is really exciting," Guyer said. 

Guyer was vaccinating children at Station 1. He walked up to a blue car where there a blond girl sat in the front seat. The family decided to get their injection inside of their car instead of getting out and sitting in one of the chairs provided. 

Hannah Sullivan, 8, holds her parent's hand as she receives a dose of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine at a pop-up clinic in the parking garage outside the Phillips Center in Gainesville.

Guyer walked back to his station where he slipped on his purple gloves, grabbed a syringe, bandage and a lollipop. A woman in the backseat of the car rubbed the little girl's head in anticipation. 

Afterwards, Guyer gave the girl the lollipop and the family got her vaccination card with a second dose scheduled, about three weeks later.

"The pandemic has really been wearing on all of us. To be able to have to tool now to really protect the children...we can just move past that and get the kids protected and move on with our lives," Guyer said. 

William Kenney came to the vaccination clinic to get his 10-year-old daughter Madelaine Kenney vaccinated. Like Crumpton the vaccination was a relief for Kenney. 

"The statistics on our side and it's the protection that your child needs. So that's why we wanted to do it," Kenney said. 

Kenney said his family has been fortunate throughout the pandemic because no one in his family has gotten sick and no one has died from COVID-19. 

"But we know people that have gotten sick and it's changed our lives. But we've gotten through it and we look forward to getting back to normal, whatever that maybe," Kenney said. 

Ethan said he's happy to vaccinated. 

"It hurt a lot!" his little brother Ian interjected. 

"I don't think I have to wear a mask anymore and I probably won't have to quarantine," Ethan said.