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Parents rush to Mall of America site following approval of COVID vaccine for kids under 5

The state's community site at Mall of America offered shots to this younger age group for the first time on Wednesday.

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Lianna Cotant's son, Luca, was born in September 2020, just months after COVID-19 upended the world.

"I was pregnant when the pandemic started," Cotant said. "He's lived his whole life in the pandemic."

On Wednesday, though, one-and-a-half-year-old Luca reached a milestone. He received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, after his mom signed him up for one of the first slots at the state's Mall of America community site. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed Pfizer and Moderna vaccines for kids younger than five over the weekend, meaning all Americans older than six months, like Luca, are now eligible.

"We finally get to protect him," Cotant said, shortly before checking into her son's appointment at Mall of America. "We're just thrilled that we are finally at this place."

With her older, and fully vaccinated five-year-old son Jaxson tagging along, Cotant let KARE 11 follow her family through the vaccination process on Wednesday afternoon. From start to finish, it took just 20 minutes for Cotant to move through the line, and Luca cried only for a few moments when a nurse jabbed his right leg with a needle. 

"All done! All done!" Cotant told Luca shortly after the shot. "You did so good!"

Moments later, Cotant felt overcome with relief. 

"Gosh, yes, it feels amazing," Cotant said. "It's an amazing feeling."

While Cotant rushed to find a vaccine for her young son as soon as possible following CDC approval, other parents remain cautious. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll taken in May, only 18% of American parents with kids younger than five said they were "eager to get their child vaccinated right away," and 38 percent said they planned to "wait a while to see how the vaccine is working for others." 

Minnesota Department of Health data shows hesitancy among parents of older kids, too, with only 39% of children ages five to 11 fully vaccinated so far. 

Kalee Medina, the on-site nurse manager at Mall of America with Homeland Health, acknowledged these concerns but encouraged parents to learn more about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines for young kids. After approval of the vaccines for kids as young as six months old, the CDC noted in its official media statement that "COVID-19 vaccines have undergone—and will continue to undergo—the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history."

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"There's been a lot of research behind this vaccine. It's very effective. It's very trustworthy," Medina said. "Our medical professionals are suggesting getting vaccinated." 

Medina said that the Mall of America is currently filling up 250 appointments a day, with strong demand in the first week of new eligibility for the younger age group. The MOA site will operate Wednesdays through Saturdays, on top of the more than 300 other statewide providers consisting of pediatricians, clinics and pharmacies.

"We've seen quite a bit of families coming through," Medina said. "It's a perfect time before kids go back into daycare, pre-school, moving into kindergarten."

Katharine Weirick brought her six-month-old daughter to the MOA site on Wednesday for that very reason.

"We've had three exposures in her young life," she said. "I am really excited to not worry about daycare exposure, and excited to visit our grandparents this summer without worrying about it."

Lianna Cotant, meanwhile, is excited that her whole family will soon be fully vaccinated, now that her son Luca has gotten his first dose.

"I don't think we've had COVID—maybe we have and we didn't know it—but either way, we're just so happy to have him protected," Cotant said. 

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