To dance without a face mask.

To hug grandparents without worry.

To protect a vulnerable sibling.

These reasons and many others brought young people, ages 12 to 15, to a recent Spectrum Health clinic to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations.

After federal regulators authorized Pfizer’s vaccine for children as young as 12, Erin Grin could not wait to schedule an appointment for her 13-year-old twin daughters, Emily and Catherine.

They came from a lacrosse tournament, with the girls still in uniform, for their first shot of vaccine.

“We want to keep them safe and others we love safe,” Erin said.

Once she is fully vaccinated, Haarika Hebbur, 15, looks forward to seeing friends and going to school in person, rather than online.

“Since my 16th birthday is coming up, I want to do something for that,” she said.

Her father, Shreedhar Hebbur, said getting the vaccine matters for more than just an individual or a family. Vaccinations can help others throughout the community and the country, he said.

“Being sick might not affect you, but it might affect somebody who is in a critical position where they cannot recover,” he said.

That view touches close to home for 13-year-old Kenzie Swiftney.

“My younger brother has a congenital heart condition so it’s really important that we protect him, so he can be safe, too,” she said.

Kenzie and her three siblings have attended virtual school during the pandemic. She looks forward to in-person classes and gatherings with friends.

“We want them all back to school as soon as possible,” said her dad, Cory Swiftney. “The kids certainly miss their friends, and they need to be among other kids.”

‘A big relief’

Cole Baker, 15, has been careful during the pandemic, wearing a mask and social distancing.

“I was born early so I have a somewhat compromised immune system,” he said.

He hopes the vaccine will boost his ability to avoid COVID-19—and allow him to see loved ones.

“I got the vaccine so I could see my family,” he said.

“This was a big relief to get his shot today,” said his mother, Betsy Baker.

Taj Osborne, 12, looks forward to seeing friends and going out to eat in a restaurant. But one perk outranks the rest.

“The best thing that is probably going to happen is we are going to visit my family in New York,” he said.

His father, Colin Osborne, encouraged others to consider getting the vaccine.

“Think about the bigger picture—being able to see your children without a mask walking across the graduation stage, perhaps gathering with your family and having a level of confidence in that gathering,” he said.

“This is important. It’s bigger than all of us.”

‘This is the solution’

Nicole Niemic also sees vaccines as a way to protect others from the virus.

“We have seen how many lives it can take,” she said. “Our friends lost their 6-year-old from COVID-19.”

Nicole brought two children to the clinic: her 15-year-old daughter, Tatiana, and her 14-year-old son, Zeyden.

She also has older children who already have been vaccinated and younger kids who are not old enough for vaccines.

“We have a big household. We have adopted several kids who have immune suppression,” she said. “Doing our little part to protect not only our own family but the people around us and the public is very important to us.”

Casimira Hovinga, 12, wears a face mask when she plays sports and practices jazz dance and ballet.

“It’s frustrating because you can’t breathe normally after you are tired from dancing,” she said.

Once she is fully vaccinated, she hopes to dance mask-free.

“With vaccines, you can get closer and closer to a new normal,” she said.

Her 14-year-old brother, Henry, looks forward to spending time with his grandparents this summer.

And their mom, Lisa Hovinga, felt thrilled when the vaccines became available to the 12-and-older crowd.

“I’m so happy for all of us, for our community and our kids,” she said.

“This is the solution to this horrific problem and awful pandemic that we have been dealing with for the past year.”