13-year-old Kate Pflueger gets vaccinated against COVID-19 by her grandfather, Dr. Ted Lorenc, on May 15 at the McHenry County Department of Health’s McHenry vaccination site. | Provided Photo.

McHenry County teens are beginning to receive their second doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which doctors say is key to keeping kids in school this fall after the negative impacts of virtual learning last year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for youth 12 and older in mid-May. Teens have now begun receiving their second dose of the vaccine.

For 13-year-old McHenry County resident Katherine Pflueger, the decision to get vaccinated was “a no-brainer.”

“Getting vaccinated will prevent other people from getting the virus and allow you to do more things over the summer break,” Katherine said. “You can go out with friends without getting the virus, or you can go to beaches.”

Jenny Pflueger, Katherine’s mother, said the family had to postpone their yearly trip to their cottage in Wisconsin last summer because almost everyone in their family has a condition that makes them high risk for severe illness.

“This year we are looking forward to lots of hugs, lots of food and lots of pierogis,” Pflueger said.

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Dr. Laura Buthod, licensed pediatrician and McHenry County Department of Health medical advisor, said having peace of mind about reducing the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 by vaccinating youth are all positive benefits of vaccinating.

Buthod said that isolation and lack of classroom learning have negatively impacted students, both mentally and academically.

“Our history of safety with childhood vaccines, and our current safety experience with the 170 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines that have been given, allow me to unconditionally recommend the COVID-19 vaccine for all children 12 years and up. My hope is the freedoms the vaccine provides will allow children the opportunities they need to grow and develop normally,” Buthod said.

The McHenry County Department of Health said teens are able to gather in groups with other people who are fully vaccinated without a mask and can skip quarantine if they’ve been in contact with a person who tests positive for COVID-19.

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For students, skipping quarantine means they can remain in school, sports and other extracurricular activities unless they become ill, the health department said.

Buthod said parents should avoid waiting to vaccinate their children as older school-aged children continue to drive the positive cases in McHenry County.

While COVID-19 is less serious in children, health officials said they are still seeing enough children experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue and foggy thinking for more than two months.

They say that children’s hospitals around the country have opened specialized post-COVID-19 clinics to treat cases.

“Our youth need to act now,” Buthod said. “We must remember that the approved Pfizer vaccine is a two-dose series, spread out by three weeks. Thus, it takes a minimum of five weeks to be fully immunized. With summer sports camps and vacations happening soon for most families, the sooner their kids are vaccinated, the sooner they can feel safer doing their normal activities.”

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MCDH-run clinics offer walk-in vaccinations and vaccinations by appointment. Anyone 12 or older is eligible to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

A parent must accompany children under 18 and proof of birth date is required. Those interested in the vaccine can visit the health department’s website here or call the MCDH COVID-19 Call Center at 815-334-4045.