Leah Quetzel, 7, gets her first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Benjamin Banneker Middle School on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. Credit: Photo By Steve Bohnel

Every few minutes or so, loud cheers could be heard echoing outside of an auxiliary gym at Benjamin Banneker Middle School late Saturday morning, and into the afternoon. The chorus of encouragement came from nurses and other officials tasked with running a coronavirus vaccine clinic for 5- to 11-year-old children.  

Leah Quetzel, 7, was one of them. She grimaced as she got the shot in her left arm, but braved through and said she was happy she got her first dose. 

Her mother, Melissa, said she now has peace of mind. 

“She was the last one in our household to get it, so we’re excited,” Melissa said. 

Stephanie Iszard, coordinator of student health for Montgomery County Public Schools, said that as of just before noon Saturday, roughly 160 doses had been administered at the Burtonsville clinic. The clinic was scheduled from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. 

MCPS and the county’s Department of Health and Human Services have run dozens of vaccine clinics for 5- to 11-year-olds since early November. 

Along with registered appointments, the clinic was also accepting walk-ins Saturday, Iszard said. Officials had 290 registered for shots Saturday, but were set up to administer 400 doses, she added.  

In a recent news briefing, County Executive Marc Elrich shared data with reporters that showed Montgomery County’s government was administering at least three times as many doses as any other jurisdiction across the state. Iszard said that the county, schools and other partners have had strong messaging in getting the vaccine to the younger population. 

Montgomery County is the most populous jurisdiction in Maryland, with just over 1.06 million residents, per the U.S. Census Bureau. County officials have said that through the first three weeks, they expected to receive just over 27,000 doses for 5- to 11-year-olds.  Thousands of other doses are also going to pediatricians, hospitals, pharmacies and other areas.

“We have door knockers that go out, we are constantly reaching out to folks, we watch the data and the heat maps to see where those deserts are,” Iszard said of the county’s efforts. “We work well with [the county Department of Health and Human Services] to ensure we go to where the need is, and we have some really engaged activists that we’ve been working with in workgroups, who have done a great job.” 

Iszard was directing parents and their children through the check-in process Saturday, along with offering encouragement and support to young children who may have had some last-minute nerves.  

She was joined by Ricardo Irby, a site specialist contracted through Athenahealth and offering support to the Department of Health and Human Services and MCPS in running the clinic. 

It’s important to help communities that have been more adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s also important to get as many young children to get vaccinated as possible, he said. Banneker Middle School is a Title 1 school, “in which children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollment,” according to the U.S. Department of Education. 

County officials have targeted Title 1 schools to run their clinics, in order to ensure a more equitable distribution of vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.  

Sometimes, it might not take much to convince someone that the vaccine is safe and effective, Irby said. 

“One sentence, one experience can change a person’s mind, to have them to [go from], ‘OK, I don’t want to get it,’ to ‘OK, my little cousin just got it, or my brother just got it, or my mother just got it, or my father got it,’” Irby said.  

Multiple parents who witnessed their kids get a first dose Saturday said it gave them peace of mind that they could finally get them vaccinated.  

Kenneth Sherman, father of Nicharwii Sherman, 10, said she was the last one in the immediate family to get it and called it “another layer of protection” against the coronavirus.  

Nicharwii said the shot was “quick” and “didn’t hurt.” 

“I’m happy about it because I was kind of late to get it, all my friends got it when it came out … I’m happy because it’s less of a risk of me getting hurt badly from COVID.”  

Lukas Martin, 10, also got his first shot Saturday. 

“It was a sting for like a second, and then I didn’t feel that bad,” he said. 

His father, Christian, said getting Lukas vaccinated was important, because it protects him and the rest of his family, especially Christian’s 78-year-old mother. The process to register for the shot was “super simple,” he said. 

Chris Francis’ daughter, Zora, 7, said the shot was “scary” at first, but then “wasn’t so bad.” 

“Daddy and Mommy wanted me to be safe,” Zora said about getting the shot. 

Chris said with Zora going to school daily, it gives him peace of mind that everyone in the house will soon be vaccinated. 

Clinics at schools countywide continue to administer doses. Iszard said next week will mark the first round of second days for kids 5 to 11 years old, as the 21-day waiting period will have passed for getting a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. 

On Monday, clinics will be from 1:30-4 p.m. at the following schools: 

  • Kennedy High School, 1901 Randolph Road, Silver Spring 
  • Rockville High School, 2100 Baltimore Road, Rockville 
  • Seneca Valley High School, 19401 Crystal Rock Drive, Germantown