For kids with medical conditions, COVID-19 vaccines are 'life-changing'

Several COVID-19 vaccine clinics kicked off at elementary school across the state, marking an important moment for children with health conditions.

A little shared nerves about getting their shots, Peyton Berkland gently rubs her younger brother's back to try and ease his nerves. 

"Oh Peyton, that is so sweet of you," says mom Leah Berkland. 

This is the moment the Berkland family has been waiting for, when 10-year-old Peyton and six-year-old Whitten could get protected against COVID-19. 

"I think I’m almost in shock," says Leah. " I’m surprised I’m not crying."

Born premature, Peyton has a long list of health challenges. She sees 21 medical specialists on a recurring basis, has had more than 20 surgeries in her young life, including series at Gillette Children’s focused on her spine not long before COVID hit. Now in fourth grade, Peyton hasn’t had a normal school year in four years. For Whitten, in first grade, distance learning is almost all he knows. 

"If Peyton gets sick, there is a decent chance she’ll get really sick and it would be really dangerous. So because of how fragile she is. from a medical standpoint. we’ve had to be extra careful to the detriment of her social emotional development," says dad Mike Berkland. 

10-year-old Peyton Berkland, who has faced many health challenges, got her COVID-19 vaccine shot Thursday.

With their first doses, the Berklands are now a step closer to sending both kids back to in-person learning. While they landed appointments at Cityview Elementary in Minneapolis Thursday, a few miles away Governor Walz and leaders with the Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Education visited one of the other 16 schools across the state hosting vaccine clinics this week with more to follow. 

"Yes it is true most children sustain mild illness if they get infected with the COVID virus," says Gillette Pediatrician Madeleine Gagnon. "But what we don’t know is the long-term health implications.  We are concerned about the long-term health side effects as they age and develop, and now that’s preventable."

For that the Berklands are grateful. 

"Every day is a special day because she’s here and with us," says Leah. "We never know what tomorrow is going to bring."