The two sat in a set of yellow chairs in the gymnasium at Bancroft Elementary School, where Biosah Mokwunye is in the second grade. On Tuesday, it was also where he was able to get his first dose of the coronavirus vaccine.
Since a pediatric version of the vaccine became available to 5-to-11-year-olds earlier this month, some communities in the Washington region have rolled out school-based clinics to get shots into arms quickly. Fifteen were scheduled across the District between Monday and Friday, said Patrick Ashley, senior deputy director at D.C. Health, after eight were held in the city last weekend.
D.C. Health said it did not have data available on how many 5-to-11-year-olds in all had received their first dose across the city. Two hundred and fifty doses were available at each clinic, according to D.C. Health.
But on Tuesday in Mount Pleasant, a large crowd of parents lined up outside the Bancroft gymnasium doors, some of whom would later have to be turned away by school staff as the clinic ran low on doses.
Though the clinic didn’t start until 3:30 p.m., Dayna Muehlberger brought a chair and got in line around 1:45 p.m., while her two kids were in classes at the elementary school. Her 10-year-old son, Felix, had contracted the coronavirus about two weeks earlier, she said. He was mostly asymptomatic, but the family wanted to get their children vaccinated as soon as possible because “we’re not taking our chances,” Muehlberger said.
“There’s been a lot of anxiety around kids in schools and our inability to protect them from the virus,” she said, after both of her kids had received their first dose. “So, this is a relief.”
Many children were visibly nervous as they walked up to the nurses’ stations in the gym. Some cried, and a few heeded their parents’ advice to “Look away” as the vaccine went in.
Beatriz Bach, 5, was among those who received her first vaccine dose at the clinic Tuesday. She sat in her mom’s lap, grabbed a lollipop off the table and sat quietly as a nurse administered the shot.
Beatriz had received a different round of vaccines — like the one for measles, mumps and rubella — a few weeks before, to be admitted into kindergarten.
“So this was much easier, right?” her mom, Katherine Bach, asked her after she received her first shot. Beatriz nodded her head.
“It was in there for, like, two seconds, and then it went out,” Beatriz said.
Coronavirus vaccines have been available to children ages 12 and up since the spring, and communities across the region held similar clinics at schools for that age group. The District also offered incentives, including gift cards and a chance at a college scholarship, to help encourage youths to get immunized.
The pediatric vaccine is 90 percent effective at preventing severe illness or death from the coronavirus, D.C. Health’s Ashley noted. Since the District began distributing the vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds last week, he said, there haven’t been any reported health issues after a child has received it.
Children can also get vaccinated at their pediatrician’s office, and other locations — such as grocery stores — are expected to provide the vaccine for 5-to-11-year-olds as well. But the school-based clinics are additional opportunities that are close to home, Ashley said.
For the Mokwunyes, the Bancroft clinic was an easier, faster option. They had scheduled an appointment for Biosah to get his first dose with a pediatrician, but that wasn’t until Nov. 19. Once the school clinic was announced, the family decided to have Biosah get his shot there instead.
Biosah’s immunization has opened up new options for the family, Emeka Mokwunye said, including traveling for the holidays.
“It’s like the last thing for us to feel comfortable moving through the world,” he said. “We’ve done the best that we can to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Other schools across the region have rolled out similar efforts.
In Northern Virginia, the Alexandria Health Department hosted two clinics at Alexandria City High School last weekend that vaccinated 1,384 kids in all, Population Health Manager Natalie Talis said. School-based clinics are also happening in Fairfax County Public Schools.
In Maryland, Montgomery County has vaccinated 11,146 children at county-sponsored clinics as of Thursday, according to Mary Anderson, a spokesperson for Montgomery County Health and Human Services. In Prince George’s County, 2,790 5-to-11-year-olds were vaccinated at school mobile clinics and at its Sports and Learning Complex clinic as of Wednesday, said George Lettis, a spokesman for the county’s public health department.
Before the Bancroft clinic started, Principal Jessica Morales said, she knew some families were hesitant about getting the vaccine. She virtually hosted a doctor from Children’s National Hospital to meet with parents and answer their questions.
“The priority for me as the principal is student safety and staff safety, and this is the beginning of it,” Morales said. “We want our kids to be in school. We know virtual learning has been difficult for many of our students — especially our students who are neurodiverse.”
D.C. Health is working with community groups, including clergy members and pediatricians, to encourage families across the District to get the vaccine, Ashley said. In the coming weeks, as more immunization data starts to come in, the health department plans to start tailoring its distribution plan depending on where the need may be highest, and it could include options such as offering clinics at later hours or at different locations.
The Bancroft clinic began winding down around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Inside the gymnasium, nurses clapped as children who were nervous about receiving the vaccine got their shots.
As Beatriz Bach sat and waited out the 15-minute monitoring period after her shot, one of her kindergarten classmates came up to her to say hi. She looked at his arm.
“Hey, I got the same Band-Aid,” she said, lifting her arm to show a bandage bearing the cartoon character Garfield.
“We both got the same?” her classmate asked excitedly.
Then, before he walked off to sit with his parents, he told Bach about his other bounty. “They gave me two lollipops,” he said.
Hannah Natanson contributed to this report.