Ballad Health administers first COVID-19 vaccines to those under 18

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Tears and applause filled the vaccination point of distribution at Niswonger Children’s hospital as 16 and 17-year-olds with high-risk health conditions received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“Right as the pandemic hit, I was finally allowed to go back to school after being out for a year…and so, my life was going to go back to being normal,” said 17- year-old Noah Cook. For the past two years, Noah has received chemotherapy for T-Cell Lymphoblastic Lymphoma.

Thursday, he was the first teenager to receive a COVID-19 vaccine from Ballad.

“I can go back to school. I can go out in public without having to wear a super special kind of mask,” he said. “I can wear a normal mask and hang out with my friends more”

His mom, Suzanne Cook, right there with him…and thankful.

“We’ve had enough challenges already. It will be good to put one more behind us,” Cook said. “When he asked, we said ‘of course, if your medical provider thinks it’s a good idea for you to get it.’ We’re happy for him that he feels treated, protected, etc. It’s just another step in a more normal life.”

Tanaya Anderson was right behind Noah to receive her vaccine.

“I’ve had to be extra careful making sure I’m social distancing and wearing my mask and if I’m at school, not talking to a lot of people,” said the 17-year-old.

She’s battled sickle cell anemia since she was born.

“I’m looking forward to kind of doing things that I did before COVID hit…spending more time with my friends and spending more time with my family,” said Anderson. “Of course, you know still social distancing and stuff. I kind of feel better now that I have like another coat of protection for me.”

That protection — something Ballad says is crucial.

“It’s just as important for these kids to be vaccinated as it is for the adults in our population because they have a medical condition that can make them critically ill if they do contract the virus,” said Infection Prevention Manager Tracey Rhodes.

Almost a year into the pandemic — Thursday’s vaccination clinic giving out the Pfizer vaccine — a milestone.

“This is the only vaccine that is licensed for 16 and 17-year-olds and I believe we’re the first to offer it,” said Rhodes. “It means the world to all of us here at Niswonger Children’s Hospital. These kids came through today- they were excited, they were eager to get the vaccine. It just offers them hope.”

While those participating Thursday were recommended by their pediatric specialist providers, Corinne Allen, the Director of Pharmacy says parents shouldn’t be concerned about their children receiving the vaccine.

“The side effects that we expect to see are very similar to the adult population, the 18 and older. So, we would expect a sore arm, possibly some swollen lymph nodes under the arm that you receive the vaccine in, definitely some aches and pains, possibly a low-grade fever, and possibly a headache as well,” said Allen. “There are very few contraindications. If they have received a live vaccine- that would possibly be a caution to receiving the vaccine and we would space that out a little bit. Most drug therapy is completely fine to receive the covid vaccine.”

Ballad says clinical trials for the vaccine are ongoing for 12-15-year-olds. They are hoping results and approvals come soon.

People can sign up to receive the vaccine by visiting Ballad Health’s website or calling 1-866-517-5873 between 9 am and 5 pm. Niswonger Children’s hospital is also offering a walk-in option on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday from 4-7 p.m. starting next week.

Rhodes says patients do not need a referral from a physician and that it’s based on the “honor system.” Those wanting a vaccine will just have to prove their age.

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