May 15—MOHEGAN — For many of the young people lining up Saturday for their first chance at a COVID-19 vaccination, the hesitation was less about the vaccine and more about the needle.
The fear of needles, however, did not stop a large turnout of the newly eligible 12- to 15-year-olds at a Yale New Haven Health vaccination clinic at Mohegan Sun.
"I don't really like getting shots, but I want this one. I just want COVID to go away," said 12-year-old Haylee Hanner of Ledyard.
Hanner waited with dozens of other people for a chance to enter the casino's Seasons Buffet, which has been transformed into a vaccination clinic.
The clinic is open to anyone eligible for the vaccination, and Gov. Ned Lamont this week expanded the state's vaccination program to include Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines for the 12-to-15 age group. Pfizer makes the only vaccine currently approved for that age group, and it was the vaccine available Saturday at Mohegan Sun and at the United Community and Family Services' Norwich Health Center on Town Street in Norwich. Yale New Haven Health additionally hosted a clinic at Mitchell College in New London.
More vaccination clinics, some catering specifically to the younger age groups, are opening this week as local health districts coordinate with school districts.
There are an estimated 140,000 more residents now eligible for the vaccine.
"I want to help protect the community. It's the right thing to do," said 14-year-old Antonio Soldato of Ledyard, shortly before his shot.
Soldato was accompanied by his mother, Doreen Szollosi. She said she was beginning to make summer travel plans now that more family members were vaccinated.
"I'm a little but anxious about the shot, but I'm just glad to get it. I might be able to get back to doing things safely with my friends," said 14-year-old Logan Montgomery of Ledyard.
Montgomery's mother, Andrea Montgomery, said her entire family, including a 16-year-old daughter, are close to being fully vaccinated, and it has led to a few less nerves when it comes to doing things like eating out. The family, for example, visited Abbott's Lobster in the Rough in Noank this week, the first family outing in quite some time.
Two East Haddam neighbors arrived at the Mohegan Sun clinic together on Saturday with their three children, ages 12 and 13.
Colleen Hagerty, 13, wore a "Science will win" Pfizer T-shirt in honor of the moment and said she was excited because the vaccination opened up more opportunities to "do stuff," a sentiment shared by many other youths.
Hagerty's neighbor, Caryn DeLisa, snapped cell phone photos of her two boys, 13-year-old Benjamin and 12-year-old Christopher, as they received their shots. DeLisa is a Pfizer employee and helped work on the vaccine, making her all the more excited and proud to have the Pfizer vaccine the first available for her children.
In a waiting area outside where the vaccines were administered, people posed for photos in front of poster announcing "I did my part to #crushcovid by getting vaccinated." Nurses checking up on the newly vaccinated encouraged the youth to talk to their friends.
Brody Bratland, 12, of Waterford, waited with his father after the vaccination to ensure there were no immediate side effects from the shot. Bratland said he has a peanut allergy and brought an EpiPen in the event of an allergic reaction.
Bratland, who is involved in gymnastics and lacrosse, said his ultimate goal is a little bit of a return to normalcy.
"I don't want to wear a mask anymore," he said.
For more information on how to schedule a vaccination, visit https://portal.ct.gov/Vaccine-Portal.