16-year-old NJ EMS volunteer gets COVID-19 vaccine after month-long search
Cranford First Aid Squad Volunteer Kelsey Quinones had struggled to find somewhere where she could receive the Pfizer vaccine, the only one approved for those under 18
FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP, N.J. — Kelsey Quinones was clearly the youngest person in the vaccine line Tuesday at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold Township.
The line moved steadily, and the 16-year-old was happy to wait her turn.
The high school junior and volunteer with the Cranford First Aid Squad received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine after an entire month of searching, an effort spearheaded by her mother, Carole Quinones.
“I’m relieved,” Carole Quinones said after her daughter emerged from the required 15-minute waiting period after the first dose was administered. “I’m really happy for her, that she’s safer at the first aid squad.”
“It gives me a peace of mind knowing that I have the vaccine,” Kesey said after the shot. “I am safer than before.” She already has an appointment for the second dose, on Feb. 16.
Some of the CentraState staffers clapped for her right after the shot, Carole said.
Kelsey Quinones qualified for the vaccine in the first wave, as a first responder, but finding a facility with Pfizer was a challenge.
She can only receive the Pfizer vaccine, which is cleared for people as young as 16. The Moderna vaccine is only for people 18 and older. And Pfizer doses have mainly been reserved and sent to organizations with “cold chain” capabilities, like hospitals, who can keep it at the required sub-freezing storage temperature of minus 70 degrees Celsius.
Her mother spent a good portion of the past month on the phone and sending emails, trying to nail down a vaccination site that had Pfizer and could commit to an appointment for Kelsey.
The Quinones believe other teens who work in volunteer EMS squads are a population, albeit maybe small, that the state was overlooked when it rolled out its COVID-19 vaccine program for first responders, who qualified in Phase 1A.
After NJ Advance Media wrote about the Quinones’ vaccination search on Jan. 15, several companies reached out to the family, and CentraState was first to confirm an appointment, for Tuesday.
“It was a long, hard battle to get her here, and I don’t see any other 16-year-olds here,” Carole said outside of the hospital’s vaccination area. “I’m happy that they gave us the opportunity to get a vaccine.”
On Tuesday, the state’s COVID dashboard showed that of the over 600,000 vaccine doses already administered in New Jersey, only 354 were for people ages 16 or 17. On Jan. 15, none had started the two-shot vaccination process.
A CentraState spokesperson said the organization saw the Quinones story and reached out to the family. The hospital has both Pfizer and Moderna, and administers them in separate locations in the hospital.
They also have a dedicated site, centrastate.com/vaccine, for information and registering. On Tuesday, the site said appointments were currently halted, but would open up when it receives more doses.
Kelsey, who plans to be a nurse, is not an EMT yet, but is currently enrolled in a course to receive that certification.
Still, she and her mother say she’s at risk for the virus, due to the 12-hour weekend shifts with the squad, responding to a variety of emergency calls and spending significant time in emergency rooms during and after transporting patients, then restocking and cleaning the ambulance.
The Cranford First Aid Squad says its policy is to not send cadet members, like Kelsey, on emergency calls of known or suspect cases of COVID-19.
As for the shot itself, Kelsey said it was no sweat.
“I think the flu shot was worse,” she said.
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