A group of youngsters played soccer on the playfield of West Seattle’s Pathfinder K-8 school Thursday afternoon to tunes from Lady Gaga and Disney movies. Nearby, in a covered area, classmates sat socially distanced in chairs under the basketball hoops, looking at iPads or shouting to their friends through their masks from 6 feet away.
“Can I go now?” one student asked from his chair as he rubbed his newly vaccinated arm, wanting to join his friends. Not yet, an adult said. Everyone needed to wait the 15 minutes required after the COVID-19 vaccine.
The playfield of Pathfinder K-8 captured much of what it’s been like for young adolescents during the COVID-19 pandemic — a lot of waiting and social distancing as the world grapples with a deadly virus. But this moment signaled hope for the preteens and teens, and their families: Soon, they might be able to see their friends and teachers again, maybe even without masks.
“I’m definitely excited to show up to school,” said North Baird, a 12-year-old sixth-grader who is doing all-remote learning. “I want to make new friends. And be at least a little bit like it was before.”
Pathfinder K-8 was the site of one of 52 COVID-19 vaccination clinics held at Seattle K-8, middle and high schools over a two-week period, with the goal of vaccinating 17,000 students before the end of the school year. Across King County, in-school clinics have been held at 43 schools in a dozen districts this week, with more scheduled, according to Public Health — Seattle & King County.
About 378,000 12-to 15-year-olds in Washington became eligible for the two-dose Pfizer vaccine last week, providing a pathway for a more normal summer than 2020. The announcement was met with a rush of walk-ins at vaccination sites and appointment requests. From Thursday to Sunday, 27,934 children ages 12 to 15 received their first dose of Pfizer, the only vaccine type approved for the age group, according to the state Department of Health. The agency says Washington’s vaccination rate for that age group is more than double the national average.
The kids coming in have been excited, Seattle Fire Department Lt. Brian Wallace said, noting that in contrast with adults who may be worried about the effects of the actual vaccine, kids are more anxious about the injection itself. It’s important to explain each step, so they’re not startled. Lift that purple shirt sleeve, relax your arm, North, the 12-year-old, was told. All done. Then came a fist bump from the Fire Department vaccinator.
At another table, SFD Lt. Penny Stone, who estimates she’s administered vaccines to thousands of people through the West Seattle mass-vaccination site and mobile clinics, had a special patient: her son, Calder, 12, a Pathfinder sixth-grade student. They hugged afterward.
“It’s pretty special,” Stone said. Fifty-three students were vaccinated at Pathfinder, and 50 were vaccinated by the same Fire Department team at Louisa Boren STEM K-8 earlier Thursday.
Sophie Springwalter, 14, talked about the two quarantine birthdays she’s had, and how she’s only going to in-person learning twice a week.
“It’s been hard,” the eighth grader said. “Since I am older, I have more freedom, but no freedom, because of restrictions.”
She hoped her quarantine bubble would expand now that she and her siblings, who are 12, 15 and 16, and her parents, are all vaccinated. She is looking forward the most to going to the pool this summer.
Washington schools are expected to fully open to in-person learning in the fall, bringing 1.1 million students back to classrooms. As of early May, more than half of the state’s students are currently coming to school at least one day a week, but many districts remain on a hybrid in-person and remote schedule, according to state superintendent’s office data.
“This has been so hard on our youth,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said at a news conference earlier this week at Franklin High School. “We’ve seen almost every student and family struggle with online learning. There’s not an exception to that.”
The Washington State Board of Health — which oversees state vaccine policies — hasn’t yet said whether it will require the COVID-19 vaccine for K-12 students.
The Seattle Fire Department is also hosting clinics for private-school students; the final clinic will be held at Holy Family Bilingual Catholic School in West Seattle on Wednesday. The mass-vaccination site at Lumen Field Event Center is holding a “student and family day” on Saturday, with pediatric clinicians administering the shots. Also on Saturday, the fire department is hosting a clinic at Franklin High School to reach those who can’t get a shot during the week.
At the end of vaccine clinics, parents talk of how excited they are, too, vaccinators said, and about the trips they have planned for their families over the summer. North’s mother, Mo Clark, said they’re hoping to finally do a trip that’s been in the works for months — they’re going to Disneyland.