As eligibility expands to anyone 16 and over, Fil-Am teens share their vaccine experiences

Half of all U.S. adults have received at least one dose, CDC confirms

ALTHOUGH the coronavirus pandemic is far from over and normal life has yet to fully resume, more residents aged 16 and older are getting vaccinated against COVID-19 in cities and counties across California.

On Saturday, April 10 the City of Los Angeles opened up coronavirus vaccination appointments for anybody over 16 years old, five days ahead of the originally planned date that coincided with the state’s plan.

As previously reported in the Asian Journal, the state of California announced that vaccine eligibility was scheduled to expand to anyone over 16 years old starting April 15.

And despite production issues with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine (and the overall stalled rollout), half of the entire population of California aged 16 and older have received at least one COVID-19 shot, the state announced on Sunday, April 18.

“This historic milestone is a wonderful sign that Californians understand COVID-19 vaccinations are safe and effective and that our entire state is committed to getting to immunity,” Dr. Tomás J. Aragón, state public health officer and director of the California Dept. of Public Health wrote in a statement released on Monday, April 19.

Over the last few weeks, the state has been extending vaccine outreach to different communities in California, including the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.

The increased fear over safety amid the spike in anti-Asian attacks and crimes have punctuated the urgency of vaccine distribution to the AAPI community, members of whom have reported feeling less safe leaving their homes.

But with the increased availability of doses, many in the Filipino American community are hurrying to get immunized and safeguard their families and themselves.

Emma Paragas, a 16-year-old junior in high school, got her first Pfizer shot on Friday, April 16 and said she had been anticipating it since both her parents got their vaccines several weeks ago.

According to Emma — who lives in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Eagle Rock with her family — both she and her older brother Jeffry have been itching to get their shots to ensure that the entire family is immunized and safe from the more severe effects of COVID-19.

“I don’t like getting shots, so I was a little scared. I’ve always hated them and they make me anxious. But I know it was the right thing, and now almost everyone in my [immediate] family has at least one vaccine shot,” Emma said in a phone interview with the Asian Journal on the day she got her shot.

Jeffry, 18, also got the Pfizer vaccine on the same day as his sister and reported no physical side effects but said that despite the increased threat of attacks against Filipinos, he felt it was important to get vaccinated and “do my part.”

“It’s made us feel a lot more careful about going to places with lots of people,” Jeffry said in the same interview, noting the increase of anti-Asian hate across the country. “Places that we thought were safe, even medical places like hospitals [such as the] one that Emma and I got our shots at, could have an attack. That’s definitely something that we’ve both been worried about for a while now.”

Jeffry added that fellow Filipinos who are now eligible for the vaccine should make their appointments at the same location on the same day.

“I went with my sister, and my parents went with us, too. I think that made me feel a lot safer: knowing that my family was with me. I think I would have been scared to go by myself, which some of my friends did,” Jeffry shared.

Like Emma and Jeffry, another Fil-Am pair of siblings decided to go get vaccinated together as soon as eligibility widened to include older teens.

Drea Santiago, 19, and her brother Louis, 16, signed up for vaccine appointments as soon as their county, San Francisco, announced on Tuesday, April 6 that vaccines were open to all residents aged 16 and older in prioritized zip codes where the pandemic has hit the hardest. (As of Tuesday, April 13, all residents 16 years old and over who live in any San Francisco County zip code are eligible for appointments.)

Drea and Louis, who are half-Filipino and half-Mexican and live in the Mission District, received their first Pfizer shots at the newly established vaccine site at the Local 261 Union Building on Saturday, April 17.

“We’ve been hearing a lot about how the dosage supply is limited and didn’t think we were gonna get an appointment in April, so we were surprised to get an appointment pretty quickly,” Drea told the Asian Journal in a Zoom interview this past Monday.

Although the Santiagos live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood, they said that they saw people of all backgrounds — including “many Asian folks” — at their appointment. Considering how harshly the pandemic has hit the entire San Francisco community, seeing many marginalized communities in line to get vaccinated was inspiring for them.

“Many of us here in San Francisco know at least one person who has either gotten really ill or even passed away from this virus because it’s a relatively small city compared to the other big cities like LA that I heard have also had really bad surges,” Louis said.

Drea added that, “[i]t means a lot that so many Black, brown, Latinx and Asian people were there to get their vaccine, which has been the goal for pretty much everyone in the world since the pandemic first hit. It’s an important protection for everyone, but especially for the more vulnerable communities like ours in The Mission.”

According to San Francisco Mayor London Breed, almost 60% of people aged 16 or older who live and work in San Francisco have received at least one vaccine dose.

“Even with limited supply, San Francisco continues to be well ahead of the national average for how many of our residents have been vaccinated,” Breed said in a statement. “There’s an end to this pandemic in sight, and we’re doing everything we can to make that happen as soon as possible.”

Half of all adults in the U.S. have received at least one COVID-19 shot as of Sunday, April 18, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That translates to nearly 130 million people who are at least half-vaccinated. Moreover, about 32.5% of those who have received shots have been fully vaccinated.

The hope that many California officials share is that with more brands working on their own COVID-19 vaccine, there will be less anxiety over limited daily doses.

Three vaccines — from Pfizer-BioNTech (commonly abbreviated as the Pfizer vaccine), Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are currently available for distribution, but only the two-shot Pfizer vaccine is authorized for individuals aged 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine also requires two-shot appointments and is currently authorized for individuals aged 18 and older. Meanwhile, administration of the Johnson & Johnson single-shot has been paused nationally, as of this writing.

“We share the urgency to expand the use of our vaccine to additional populations and are encouraged by the clinical trial data from adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15,” Albert Bourla, chairman and CEO of Pfizer, said in a statement to the press released in late March. “We plan to submit these data to FDA as a proposed amendment to our Emergency Use Authorization in the coming weeks and to other regulators around the world, with the hope of starting to vaccinate this age group before the start of the next school year.”

In a 2,260-adolescent study of 12 to 15-year-olds, the Pfizer vaccine resulted in higher protective antibody responses than in adults and was found to be 100% effective against symptomatic illness.

Pfizer and BioNTech also began testing their vaccine in children aged younger children (aged between 2 to 11 years old) and have plans to test the vaccine on infants and toddlers aged 6 months to 2 years old; results of those trials are expected to be available later this year.

Klarize Medenilla

Klarize Medenilla is a staff writer and reporter for the Asian Journal. You can reach her at [email protected].

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