A 7-year-old girl came dressed in a Superwoman costume. A fourth-grade boy created a name tag with encouraging words. A veteran pediatric nurse practitioner wore a unicorn headband and used “magic” to calm young patients. Scores of parents recorded the scene on smartphones.
More than a week after the United States began vaccinating children ages 5 to 11 against COVID-19, hundreds of families sought to reclaim their lives from 19 months of pandemic upheaval by escorting their young sons and daughters to a vaccine clinic at the Museum of Science on Saturday.
“I feel awesome,” said Jack Wilson, 10, after getting his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine. His father, Daniel, photographed and videotaped the momentous occasion.
Being vaccinated, Jack said, will make it easier to go to his soccer and baseball games, attend school, and watch the Red Sox play at Fenway Park.
“It just lowers the anxiety of everyday life,” said Daniel Wilson, a Newton resident.
During the daylong clinic, 432 children got their first vaccine dose and 113 adults got boosters, the museum said. The museum is hosting additional vaccine clinics on Sunday and next weekend.
“It’s really a time for joy and relief,” said Tim Ritchie, the museum’s president. “You can feel that and see that in these family groupings that come.”
The clinic was set up in the atrium between the Charles Hayden Planetarium and Mugar Omni Theater and decorated with mylar balloons. Each vaccination station had a sign featuring a different animal, and children were offered stuffed animals, stickers, and lollipops.
Dan Hoffenberg, vice president of Cataldo Ambulance Service, which administered the vaccines, said workers prepped for inoculating young patients by learning distraction and soothing techniques and how to enlist parents to help their children get the shot. Pediatric patients get their second vaccine dose three weeks after the first shot, he said.
“We know that this is an experience that certainly not every kid is looking forward to,” Hoffenberg said. “We’re trying to make it as fun as possible for them.”
Barbara Poremba, a pediatric nurse practitioner, wore a unicorn headband and told her young patients that she could tap “special magic” to blunt the needle’s sting.
When it was time for Vera Engman Soldatini of Needham to get her shot, Poremba told the girl to be “very, very still.”
“Do not look because magic does not work if you look,” she said.
As Engman Soldatini, 10, looked away, Poremba rubbed her upper arm with one hand, and used her other hand to give the shot.
Once the vaccine was in the girl’s arm, Poremba stopped rubbing and asked: “Are you ready? Can I do it now?”
“Yes,” she said.
Poremba then told Engman Soldatini to look at her arm, where a Band-Aid had been applied to the spot where the vaccine was administered while she was looking away.
“Did you see the needle?” Poremba asked.
“No,” she said.
Engman Soldatini, who was accompanied by her mother, said her 12-year-old brother was already vaccinated.
“I was super excited to get it,” she said of the vaccine.
Patients who get vaccinated at the museum get two free admission tickets and two hours of free parking.
A new exhibition at the museum explores the development and clinical trials for COVID-19 vaccines. The exhibition is called “Project Vaccine: Our Best Defense” and it is also on display at the EcoTarium in Worcester and at McWane Science Center in Birmingham, Ala., said Ritchie.
The COVID-19 pandemic, Ritchie said, is the “public science issue of our day.”
“This is public space for public science,” he said. “We want to be very active about being a place where people can engage in science. And getting a vaccination is like the ultimate citizen-science effort.”
Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of Brown University School of Public Health, toured the clinic Saturday. He said his 9-year-old son, Rohan, is scheduled to get his first vaccine dose on Tuesday, meaning his entire family will soon be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
“It’s really a big deal for him. And he sees it very much as his freedom out of the pandemic. And he’s been jealous that his sisters have had [the vaccine] and he has not,” Jha said. “I think a lot of younger kids feel that way.”
Vaccinating younger children, he said, marks the beginning of a new phase when pandemic-related restrictions “really start coming off in a meaningful way.”
Alanna Khan, 7, got her vaccine dressed as Superwoman.
She was with her mother, Dr. Elizabeth Taglauer, a neonatologist at Boston Medical Center who has been researching pregnant women and COVID-19.
Taglauer said getting Khan vaccinated is a milestone.
“It means a lot it,” she said.
Ojas Tikale, who is in fourth grade, created a name tag and wore it around his neck for his vaccine appointment.
“Don’t be afraid. Covid vaccines don’t hurt! They also destroy Covid!” he wrote on the name tag.
His parents, Vaishali Kushwaha and Sahil Tikale, said getting Ojas vaccinated means they might be able to visit relatives and friends in India, Washington, D.C., and California.
Rodrigo Barahona of Watertown videotaped his daughter, Ophelia, 7, as she got her shot and plans to share the clip with relatives in Costa Rica.
Ophelia said she tried to stay calm and not worry before getting the shot.
“Even though I was a little scared,” she said, “I [held] Dad’s hand and I felt brave.”
Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.