Cameron Strout, 10, left, Maxwell Strout, 7, center, and Samuel Hinrichs, 7, right, hold up their U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccination cards outside of the Brewer Walgreens they got the COVID-19 vaccine at on Sunday. Credit: David Marino Jr. / BDN

The inoculation itself is quick: two 10-microgram Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine shots three weeks apart that look no different than other vaccines children commonly get.

But for parents in the Bangor area who brought their children to be vaccinated over the weekend at their first opportunity, the COVID-19 vaccine is a game changer. It will keep their kids safe and hasten the end of a nearly two-year-long pandemic that has changed how kids learn and socialize with their friends and family.

That’s why Kelley Strout chose to vaccinate her two children at Walgreens in Brewer on Sunday. She was accompanied by Alexandra Hinrichs, who was getting her middle child vaccinated. Hinrichs’ oldest son had been inoculated the day before.

“We’ve been waiting 20 months to protect our kids, so that they can resume their extracurricular activities, play with their friends,” Strout said.

Strout and Hinrichs, both of whom live in Bangor, were among several parents who brought their children ages 5-11 to get COVID-19 shots at Walgreens on Sunday morning, the first weekend that children of that age group could be inoculated in the U.S. One small boy lugged along a large Tyrannosaurus rex stuffed animal as he walked into the private room where children got inoculated.  

Hinrichs and her son, Samuel, 7, were the first of the group to enter the room after filling out some paperwork. The pharmacist, asking what school he attended, jabbed Sam in the arm, and he and his mom were out in a moment with a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention vaccine card.

Cameron Strout, 10, was the most excited of the bunch to get the shot, volunteering to go before his brother Maxwell, 7. He wanted it so badly that before it was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, he had asked his mother if she could enroll him in a clinical trial, she said.

“Not too bad at all,” Cameron said immediately after getting the shot.

“I can’t even see it!” Maxwell said, glancing at his brother’s arm.

It is hard to overstate the role the pandemic has played in young children’s lives the last 20 months.

Alexandra Hinrichs, a middle school librarian and children’s book author, noted that much of her family lived out of state. And she was reluctant to travel to see them as long as her children weren’t vaccinated.

She was looking forward to the day when all her children, including her 2-year-old, could be vaccinated. Clinical trials are ongoing for children as young as 6 months old. Health officials expect federal approval could occur as soon as next year.

The debate over vaccinations that has characterized the effort to inoculate the United States’ adult population against COVID-19 has been emotional and heated. Now, it’s magnified by the fact that young children are in line to get their shots.

However, pediatricians and medical officials in Maine and nationwide are practically unanimous in saying that vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds are safe and effective. While many children in the Bangor area will get their shots at pharmacies and in school clinics, several are expected to eventually get them in doctors’ offices. And many will wait far longer than Strout and Hinrichs to get their children vaccinated.

Strout and Hinrichs said it was up to every parent to decide what is best for their children. They know that not everyone will feel the way they do.

They hope that parents who are dead set against vaccinating their children, as well as those who are on the fence, research the benefits of the vaccine from reliable sources.

“I’m just grateful that our kids have the best form of protection that is available,” said Strout, a nursing professor.

Describing it as a shield, Cameron said he was happy that he could do his part to get rid of COVID. He was also looking forward to how he and other kids would be safer when they play together.

“We have a little more wiggle room to hang out with friends,” Cameron said, “so we can do more.”

Maxwell and Samuel said they were looking forward to not having to wear masks as often as they currently do. And for a virus that has infected 23,066 people ages 19 and younger in the state, Sam was also happy that it would protect him.

“COVID really can’t hurt me,” Sam said with glee.

Hinrichs noted that the pandemic had some positive effects on children. It’s easier to get them to wash their hands, she said, and they were playing outside more than ever. Plus, it has made them think more outwardly.

“It’s normal for kids to be self-focused,” Hinrichs said. “But, I think they are also more aware of how they can impact other people, as well as how other people can impact them.”