Family

Happy Birthday. Here’s a Shot.

The tweens who chose (or were told) to get a vaccine on their birthday.

A child in a birthday hat and a gloved hand holding a band-aid.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by AaronAmat/iStock/Getty Images Plus and nndanko/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

In mid-June, the FDA approved the Pfizer vaccine—now also known as Comirnaty—for children 12 and older. The news came as a huge relief for many parents figuring out how to send their teens and pre-teens to in-person school safely. (In late 2020, the FDA had approved the Pfizer vaccine for ages 16 and older; the NIH has warned that we may not see vaccine approval for under-12 until the end of 2021.)

In some cases, the parents were so eager to have their children vaccinated that they lined them up for the very first available day: their 12th birthday. (Except, of course, for parents who lie to get their 11-year-olds vaccinated.)

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To get a sense of whether these newly minted 12-year-olds felt thrilled to experience something momentous on their birthday or just annoyed to have to deal with a waiting room and a needle on a day meant for cake and pampering, Slate spoke with eight tweens about what vaccination meant to them and how they fit it into their celebrations. Their answers have been condensed and edited for clarity.

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Naina, Sunnyvale, California

My birthday was on a Wednesday. I was mostly just around home. I got a cookie for breakfast, like a giant one. I went to Golfland; it’s like mini golf. I hung around here with my grandparents and my family.

A girl wearing a mask received a vaccine.
Naina. Courtesy of Naina’s family
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When I got there for the vaccine, I started freaking out a little bit more. I was nervous. I tried to focus on something else. There was a Pringles advertisement right next to me, so I just focused on that. I don’t like [needles]. Especially when I was younger, I would hate it. And then my parents made a rule that after I get a shot, I get ice cream. So I still get ice cream after shots, but we didn’t get it that day because we were about to go home and have cake. I think we got it a few days later. The second time, I got chocolate chip cookie dough, but the first time, I don’t remember what I got.

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My side effects for the first dose were worse than the second dose. For a meal or two, I lost my taste. And I had headaches. And the second time, I didn’t get as many side effects, and it wasn’t as bad. I got this second shot two weeks before the first day of school.

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I was pretty excited. I could hang out around my friends more freely than I could before. One of my friends was not allowed to go into people’s houses until she was fully vaccinated. And I think her two weeks ends tomorrow.

Campbell, Springfield, Pennsylvania

A blond girl smiles while standing on a suburban sidewalk.
Campbell on her birthday. Courtesy of Campbell’s family
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Well, it wasn’t really an option, because my mom said I had to. But I still wanted to. It felt like a big deal. Because if I get it, then I’m helping other people, even though I’m helping myself at the same time. And the sooner you get it, the better. I don’t like shots, but I still did it. It didn’t hurt that bad, either.

We have a tradition for birthdays in our house. So when you wake up, we open presents. I opened presents—I got a new skateboard—and then my mom was like, OK, we’re gonna get to CVS as soon as we can. So we got there and the guy was like, “You’re too early.” And so we just walked around the CVS until it was nine o’clock and we went in and I got it, and then we left. And then I kind of just had a normal day the rest of the day.

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Alice, Tacoma, Washington

I’m a Junior Olympic Gymnast. I did gymnastics five days a week, 32 hours in the summer. When the pandemic started, we had to start wearing masks and be six feet apart, and then we had to do Zoom gymnastics—we worked out with our team on Zoom for two hours—which affected us, because we started losing skills and strength. We got back in January.

A masked girl sitting next to a table receives a vaccine.
Alice. Courtesy of Alice’s family
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I got my vaccine on my birthday because I got it as soon as I could to have more opportunities to hang out with my friends and do more things, like vacations and things with my family, since they’re all older. And also at gymnastics, there’s more things to do.

[On my birthday], I had to get up to get my COVID shot at a health department COVID clinic. When I started, I was getting nervous. But then I got my shot, and it was really fast, and it didn’t hurt. And then we went to the doctor’s office because we were going to go to Hawaii, so my mom had to make sure I was healthy. Then I went to gymnastics, and I was there for four hours. You have to go up on the balance beam and you put on this banner that says “happy birthday” and a hat, and they sing to you. After gym, I hung out with my brother and opened presents. He is 15, so he was already vaccinated. He told me it wasn’t going to be scary. I believed him, because he’s pretty scared of shots.

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A boy wearing a yellow soccer jersey sits in a chair and receives a vaccine.
Thomas. Courtesy of Thomas’ family

Thomas, Alexandria, Virginia

Most of my birthday was video games, but I got my vaccine. It was 10 in the morning. We went out and got cinnamon rolls, then we went to Walgreens in the neighborhood. I don’t like getting shots, but I’m glad that I got this one, definitely. I just wanted to get it as quickly as I could because I can finally play soccer without wearing a mask.

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It didn’t hurt so much. It was more sore in the afternoon, about four or five hours later. I really didn’t mind too much. My school is requiring us to wear masks when we go back, but I’ll be able to play with my friends without a mask outside.

Hazel, St. Louis Park, Minnesota

A girl standing in a pharmacy holds her finger up. She is wearing a mask and a rolled up sleeve shows a band-aid on her arm.
Hazel. Courtesy of Hazel’s family
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It was the Fourth of July, and everybody else was going to parades. So we’re normally up at my family’s cabin, and we do all this celebrating there and then go see fireworks. But this time, we came back to St. Louis Park to get my vaccine. [Points to mom to indicate whose idea this was.] And then we went home.

We cleaned up, got in the car, went to a parade, and then went back to St. Paul. I got my vaccine after about two hours of waiting. [Note from mom: It was maybe 45 minutes.]

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It was exciting because my brother had gotten two vaccines. [Note from mom: Hazel’s brother has a medical condition that put him at higher risk for not being able to fight COVID, so they have not stepped foot in schools since March of 2020.] My sister, who’s 8, cannot get her vaccine yet; hopefully they’re working on that. And my parents had gotten their vaccines. So it was just kind of exciting to join the clan of the older people. And to go to school.

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Aurie, Athens, Georgia

A girl sitting on a chair gives a thumbs-up while a nurse holds a needle.
Aurie. Courtesy of Aurie’s family
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I got my COVID vaccine two days ago. I’ve had flu shots before; I was so calm that he didn’t even have to wrestle me to stay still. I even told my orchestra teacher Mr. Kelly that I got my first COVID vaccine.

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[We’re going to celebrate my birthday more this weekend.] We’re going to a park. We’re going to have an ‘80s themed party.

Alex, Atlanta

My friend’s birthday was the day before, so we all slept over at her house, and then it kind of transitioned into my birthday. We all hung out at her house, then my mom picked us up, we went to get our nails done, and then went to go see a movie. Jungle Cruise. It was good. After the party, we tried to go get my vaccine, but all the pharmacies were closed because it was six o’clock on a Saturday, or the lines were very long. It wasn’t my decision [to get it on my birthday]: I hate needles. So much. My mom was really pushing for me to get my vaccine. I guess I was relieved [I didn’t have to get it that day].

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A family selfie with a woman, a man, and two girls.
Alex and her family on her birthday. Courtesy of Alex’s family
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I got it the day after. I wanted to get my vaccine. I don’t want to get COVID and get hooked up to a ventilator or whatever. I will have much less of a chance of getting COVID, and I’ll take off my mask a bunch more. But I mean, if they had a nose spray option, that would be great.

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Ezra, Richmond, Virginia

I woke up and went downstairs and had breakfast. Dad made either waffles or pancakes that day, and I helped him a bit. And then I did the present-opening thing. I got a Lego set from my sister. It was the Avengers Tower. Then we did normal day stuff, and then we went to the Cheesecake Factory, which was my first time going to the Cheesecake Factory. It was pretty good. Very filling. I got a flatbread and chocolate cheesecake.

A masked boy in a pharmacy lifts his sleeve to show a band-aid. A masked girl stands behind him.
Ezra and his sister. Courtesy of Ezra’s family
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After that, we drove to the pharmacy. I got the shot first because my sister likes doing everything last. [Note from mom: His sister is 14. The CDC cleared the way for the 12-plus age group a few days prior to my son’s birthday, so they got their shots together on his birthday.] She was also kind of scared about bad side effects, and I was not. My arm was a little sore, so we rested for a bit. And then we just did more, like, birthday boy stuff. And I think we had a special dinner with my grandparents on my dad’s side.

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All my close friends are younger than me, so they’re not actually fully vaccinated. But I don’t really care. I mean, sometimes when I hang out with my closest friend, I’ll jokingly say, like, “Hey, how does it feel to not be fully vaccinated?” We both know that he’s going to get vaccinated soon; he just has to wait till December.

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I was perfectly fine with getting it on my birthday, because my arm was only really sore on the second day. I’m very good with shots. It was mainly my mom who was like, “Ezra, you’re getting vaccinated, no matter what you say, no matter how much or complain, you’re getting vaccinated.” I can’t really say that it was me making that decision. I was like, whatever. I did want to go because a lot of the places that I want to go to, my mom says I couldn’t go to until I’m fully vaccinated. Like on planes and to jump park things. So I was like, well, it’d be cool to get vaccinated.

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