The Korea Herald


[From the scene] Teens eager to put pandemic behind them, return to school

Korea opens COVID-19 vaccinations to 16- and 17-year-olds

By Kim Arin

Published : Oct. 18, 2021 - 15:41

    • Link copied

A nurse at Hong-ik hospital in Seoul`s Yangcheon district administers a dose of Pfizer vaccine to a 17-year-old on Monday morning. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald) A nurse at Hong-ik hospital in Seoul`s Yangcheon district administers a dose of Pfizer vaccine to a 17-year-old on Monday morning. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

On the first day of COVID-19 vaccinations for teens under 18, the high schoolers The Korea Herald met at Hong-ik Hospital in Seoul’s Yangcheon-gu shared their hopes of returning to face-to-face classes.

Among them was Park Ju-young, 16, who said he’d left school early to get his first Pfizer dose.

“Virtual learning is nothing like actually being in class. I think going to class is so much better than doing it online because then you get to see everyone and stuff,” he said. “I know that if I wear masks and keep my hands clean, I don’t have to be too afraid of COVID-19. But I wanted to get the vaccine so that I can hang out with friends again.”

The high school sophomore said he was the last in his family to get vaccinated. His parents and older sister were all vaccinated, and with him about to be vaccinated too the family could finally travel again.

“If more people get the vaccines, maybe we can get back to normal faster -- right?”

Han Jung-hoon, also 16, who came with his friend Park, said he was getting the vaccine “in the hope that COVID-19 will go away.”

With the vaccine, he had an excuse to miss as many as three days of school. “So I’m looking forward to that, too.”

Kim Kyeong-hun, 17, said he “wanted to get the vaccine as soon as possible.” “I booked the earliest available date,” he said.

Asked if he was worried about side effects, he replied, “Not really. I’ve heard about them, but I guess they didn’t really feel real to me. I didn’t care much about them.”

What he liked about the idea of becoming fully vaccinated, he said, was “just being able to go about my day and feel safe.”

Kim’s mother, who accompanied him, said she’d left it up to her son to decide. “I said he should do as he wishes, and receiving the shot was his decision.”

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency says for healthy children and adolescents without risk factors for severe COVID-19, whether to get vaccinated “should be a voluntary decision.”

 In announcing the plan to vaccinate minors as young as 12 last month, the agency’s Commissioner Jeong Eun-kyeong advised caregivers to make the decision after understanding the benefits as well as potential risks.

Between now and Nov. 13, 16- and 17-year-olds are offered vaccinations at an interval of three weeks. For 12- to 15-year-olds, vaccinations don’t begin until next month.

As of Sunday at midnight, out of around 898,000 16- and 17-year-olds, some 55 percent had made appointments.

Dr. Lee Do-kyung, a pediatrician who was consulting with teenage recipients on-site, said she tries to “make sure kids understand what signs and symptoms they need to look out for, when to seek help, and so on.”

“Grown-ups are more or less familiar with the possible side effects of the vaccine from the news, but that might not be the case for kids,” she said. So the explanations took twice as long for children.

“Parents have already been vaccinated themselves, so they know what it’s like. Some of them have asked if side effects in children are different from ones seen in adults -- which they aren’t,” she said. “I still tell them special attention needs to be paid.”

A sore arm, pain around the injection site and a low-grade fever are some of the common side effects that go away within a few days. But symptoms like chest pain, breathlessness, or rapid or irregular heartbeat warrant immediate medical attention because they “could be symptoms of heart inflammation that is reported with the Pfizer vaccine, the only kind of vaccine that is available to children,” she said.

Kim Hye-jung, a nurse helping with the hospital’s vaccination program, said finer needles were used on children so it would hurt less.

“Children aged 12 and older get the same dose of the Pfizer vaccine as adults. Except that with them a 23-gauge needle is used, as opposed to a 25-gauge one for adults,” she said. “That’s something we’re doing differently with children.”

The hospital’s nursing director, Min Jung-sook, said one thing that was newly added to the pre-vaccination checklist for children under 18 was a question about whether they had any history of capillary leak syndrome, an extremely rare condition where blood leaks out of the small blood vessels. The screening questions are also more detailed than those for adults.

“I got the impression that kids were really paying attention to all the things that were being explained to them. I could tell some of them were nervous,” she said. “We need to exercise more caution to make the process as safe as possible.” 

By Kim Arin (