SALT LAKE CITY — It's being called a huge "turning point" in the pandemic. A step forward to "win the race" against COVID-19.
On Monday, the FDA gave the go-ahead to vaccinate all children ages 12-15 years old in the U.S.
In Utah — a state where 30 percent of the population is under 18 — that's more than 200,000 people.
Dr. Andy Pavia, who is both the chief of pediatric infectious disease at University of Utah Health and director of epidemiology at Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital, stressed during a virtual press conference Monday that studies show the vaccine is safe for children. He said they have a rich amount of data on safety and efficacy and urged parents to vaccinate their children.
"They can play an important part in ending the pandemic because we know that teenagers play an important role in transmission," Dr. Pavia said. "And they may be okay, but they don't want to infect their parents, their grandparents, other vulnerable people in the community."
How do parents feel about the news?
Depends on who you ask.
On Monday evening in West Valley City, a group of teen boys gathered at the sports complex off of 5600 West for football practice. In their Rose Park Panthers jerseys, they stepped onto the field and put on their helmets.
The focus of football practice is all about getting better and getting ready for games.
But this past year, games have been few and far between for the Panthers. The team doesn't play any local teams, because they are a non-profit organization for at-risk and underserved youth around 14 years old.
Assistant Coach Jeremiah Johnson, whose 14-year-old son is on the team, explained that they usually travel out-of-state for games, and that teams in many states like California simply could not play.
"It was really hard. A lot of these kids, this is what they have. This is it," he said.
Ana Flores, whose 14-year-old son also plays on the Rose Park Panthers, talked about how tough that was for her son.
"Any [games] that we even had this year that were scheduled, a lot of them were canceled because of COVID restrictions or some of the players ended up having COVID," he said. "So, it's kind of been rough. It's been really rough because a lot of these boys depend on this football."
By the end of this week, Flores and Johnson will have the option to make a huge decision for their children: Signing them up for the COVID-19 vaccine.
"I talked to my wife about it and we were just like, 'Okay, well that's interesting news,'" Johnson said.
Flores was taken by complete surprise.
"Just finding out two seconds ago, I'm like, 'Wait, what?!'" she said. When asked what went through her mind, she replied, "Shocked, actually. Shocked that it's so soon."
Across the sports complex, Shannon Haslam got ready for her adult league softball. She talked about how she's been waiting for this announcement, and knew it was coming anytime.
"My kid is in junior high and they're still having outbreaks," the mom said. "And I'm pretty happy about it, knowing that I can get my kid vaccinated and not have to worry so much about that, considering he plays baseball."
Haslam explained that she'll be signing her 13-year-old son up ASAP.
Flores said she wants to do a little more research to answer questions she has about her 14-year-old getting the vaccine.
"As a parent, you want to protect your child," she said. "Does that mean giving them the vaccine? I guess we'll see."
Johnson said their family already contracted COVID-19, and he is still feeling the lingering effects of the virus. He said the vaccine hasn't been a big priority in their household.
The Rose Park Panthers team, he said, won't mandate the vaccine. They want to leave the decision up to the caretakers of their players.
"I just hope that all the kids' parents and their guardians make the best decision for them with their provider," he said.
But it does bring back the hope of getting back to normal — Normal games, and a normal football season.
"That's the hope of the pandemic, which is transitioning to an 'endemic,'" Johnson said. "That that can happen, and we can all socialize a little more."