CINCINNATI — Walnut Hills High School junior Melanie Mitchell made an Instagram post a few weeks ago encouraging her friends to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Mitchell, a member of the Walnut Hills cheer team, was happy to receive feedback and questions. And her peers could trust her knowledge.
That's because she was one of the first teenagers in Ohio to receive the Pfizer vaccine as a clinical trial participant at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in November 2020.
"We're all just really excited," Mitchell said. "I think teenagers are seeing a glimpse of hope of returning to normalcy safely."
The Pfizer vaccine is authorized for use on those ages 16 and up, while both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are authorized for use on those ages 18 and older, according to the Ohio Department of Health. COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory, and consent of a parent or guardian is required for those ages 16 and 17 to be vaccinated.
Though there is no specific guidance related to vaccination of student-athletes, Dr. Robert Frenck, director of the Gamble Vaccine Research Center at Cincinnati Children's, said vaccines will provide more opportunities to have normalcy in sports and other activities for teenagers.
"I don't think people should be real worried about it," he said. "My take-home message would be all of the vaccines that have the EUA (emergency use authorization) right now have exceeded our hopes as far as for efficacy. We were hoping to get a vaccine that would prevent 70% of hospitalizations. We are getting vaccines that are 90% to 95%, which is phenomenal."
WCPO contacted a dozen Greater Cincinnati athletic directors about the vaccines and heard perspectives from several families of student-athletes via its Cincinnati area high school sports Facebook group.
Mitchell's absence from a cheer team practice last fall due to the clinical trial was unusual, so she informed her teammates about her voluntary participation in the trial, which will last two years.
"A lot of people were shocked, and that's when I sort of had to explain, because that's when I realized there is a lot of misconception around vaccines," Mitchell said.
"The first question that everyone asked me was what were my symptoms and did I get COVID-19. And I didn't have any symptoms besides a sore arm for about three days, and I always continue with saying that this shot cannot give you COVID-19."
Dr. Frenck said if adolescents get side effects after vaccination, they typically would occur within 24 hours and last a day or two.
"Some soreness at the site (of the vaccination) and maybe some redness, headache and fatigue -- those are the most common things," he said. "So if somebody has a big meet coming up or a big game or something, I'd probably not vaccinate them the day or two before that."
Greg Weber and his wife, Nicci, said the decision for their son to receive the vaccine in a few weeks wasn't complicated. Tommy Weber is a 16-year-old sophomore who runs cross country and track at Elder High School.
"What we've put these kids through for this past year -- I can't imagine being these kids and having so much taken away from them," Greg Weber said. "I want to be able to give them their high school experience back, because they missed a lot."
Greg Weber said he is diabetic and considered high risk. Moreover, the family wants to be able to visit grandparents and open doors for Tommy beyond sports.
"It's for the best interest of our family to be vaccinated," Greg Weber said. "The more of us that can be vaccinated, it would keep any strains from potentially reaching us and I don't want to get sick. Regardless of how any of us feel and how anybody feels about the politics of any of this, for the greater good it's something that we've chosen and we thought is in the best interest of us."
Tommy Weber hopes to attend a military academy in the future and might participate in a summer camp at the U.S. Naval Academy. He also has a scheduled group retreat in Wyoming.
"In order for him to do some things, he may have to have this vaccine and he may have to show proof," Greg Weber said. "So instead of it being forced down his throat from a third party, we're going to just make the decision for him and say, 'Bud, you're getting it.'"
Chris Woodard and his wife, Betty, have two teenage daughters who participated in high school sports at Summit Country Day.
Senior Bryana Woodard is committed to play basketball at Oberlin next school year; she played volleyball and basketball in high school. Senior Aniya Woodard plays soccer.
Jaden, their elder brother, is a junior at The Ohio State University. Chris Woodard said his son is considered high risk after receiving a heart transplant while a freshman at Summit.
Jaden contracted COVID-19 twice while in college and was even hospitalized at one point, Chris Woodard said.
"We just made a decision that the best thing weighing it out for them was to get the vaccine to hopefully minimize the risk -- not just for him but also for them," Chris Woodard said. "We feel like to give them a bit more freedom."
Bryana Woodard said last week she was looking forward to receiving the vaccine.
"Volleyball season -- we never had any games that we were allowed fans," she said. "We were allowed two parents at most on senior night, so that was hard. And then going into basketball it was just always you get two tickets, so it's our senior year and no one can come watch us -- kind of frustrating. And then family wise, obviously my brother, he's high risk, so when he got it, that kind of shook our whole world. And so doing this would help prevent the spread, and that's what we need."