Almost 500 people between the ages of 16 and 19 have been vaccinated against COVID-19 in the Kenai Peninsula Borough as of Friday, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
Soldotna High School students Rhys Cannava, 16, Jolie Widaman, 16, and Quinn Cox, 17, are three of them.
During a sit-down interview with the Clarion on Thursday, the three explained their reasonings for getting the vaccine and spoke about what it’s like going to high school during the pandemic.
Each of them, who got their shots last month, said choosing to get vaccinated after the Pfizer-BioNTech was approved for people 16 and up made sense.
“I think it’s kind of important for somebody to take the first steps,” Widaman said.
Because Cannava, Widaman and Cox are under 18, their parents accompanied them to their first vaccine appointment. Widaman and Cox went in for their second Pfizer-BioNTech dose alone.
Dana Cannava, Rhys’s mother who also spoke with the Clarion on Thursday, said she wanted to get the vaccine before her daughter.
“I wanted to be the guinea pig,” Dana said. “At 16 I think she’s smart enough to … have an opinion. She still wanted to do it after I had my reaction.”
Dana also said she knows upward of five students who aren’t cleared to participate in school sports because of abnormal chronic medical conditions experienced after their COVID infections. She said she wanted to do anything she could to prevent that for her children.
All three Soldotna High School juniors are student athletes.
Jill DuFloth, who also took part in the interview, is Widaman’s mother. She said she wasn’t nervous about her daughter getting the shot.
“I guess I just kind of feel like there’s been a mom in my position, whether it was polio or measles,” DuFloth said. “There’s been somebody before us that did their part and now, those things, we don’t worry about.”
When both of Widaman’s younger brothers tested positive, DuFloth said, the family had to quarantine in separate areas of the house.
“We’ve been through it,” DuFloth said. “It was hard. We don’t want to go through that again.”
Cox’s parents were cautious about the vaccine, he said, and they wanted to know more about its effect on young people. Eventually, Cox said, they decided getting the vaccine was better than not. He said other people’s safety has always been his motivation for getting vaccinated.
“The percent of us actually getting (COVID-19) and then dying from it, very low,” he said. “But there’s always that chance. And even if it doesn’t happen to you, you can infect someone and that person was loved by someone. That was someone’s special person.”
Rhys Cannava said she also felt getting the vaccine was less of a risk than getting COVID.
“It doesn’t make sense to be afraid of the vaccine and not be afraid of COVID,” she said. “Both are a risk; it’s kind of which one’s a greater risk you’re willing to take.”
Widaman said she’s heard a fair bit of “irrational comments” about the vaccines at her school. She has studied the processes of viral transmission and immunization in some of her science classes, which made her feel more confident about the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer shot, she said.
“I didn’t want to be a spreader. I think that’s a really important part,” Widaman said. “I have a family, and friends, and a team and everyone else that depends on [me]. I had a family member die from it, and so I wouldn’t want that to happen because of me.”
DuFloth said Widaman’s godfather battled the virus for two months before he died.
“You just can’t turn back the clock,” DuFloth said. “If the opportunity for vaccination had been there sooner, who knows. But we lost him.”
The three students said they hoped to have a normal senior year. Last year all three of the Soldotna High students missed out on their soccer seasons because of the pandemic.
Widaman said the lack of activities has had an effect on students.
“There’s just not very much enthusiasm for anything anymore,” Widaman said. “There’s no spirit.”
She said she is excited to do the simple things again, like just walking into a store without worrying about getting sick.
Cox is a member of the student council and hasn’t been able to plan assemblies or dances for a long time. Cox said he hopes he’ll get a senior prom next year.
Cannava is looking forward to having a normal senior year after enough people get vaccinated.
“You feel so helpless, like there’s nothing you can do,” she said. “You can’t fix it all by yourself, but the vaccine is the one thing that you could have control of.”
Reach reporter Camille Botello at firstname.lastname@example.org.