Sarah Plummer, a 17-year-old junior at Baker High School, had no qualms about getting vaccinated against COVID-19.
But there was one other thing she didn’t have, and it was a vital one.
Sarah was determined, though, to protect herself, and potentially others, from the virus that has wreaked such havoc on her penultimate year of high school.
So after talking with her parents, Faith and Dave Plummer, both of whom were fully vaccinated earlier in the year, Sarah decided to drive to Meridian, Idaho, where doses of the Pfizer vaccine — the only one approved for people younger than 18 — were available.
She had her first shot on April 23.
But it wasn’t quite the simple process Sarah had expected.
It turned out that Idaho wasn’t inoculating people from out of state.
Sarah said officials at the vaccination site allowed her to use a relative’s Idaho address on her form.
She’ll return to Meridian this Saturday, May 15, for her second dose.
Sarah said it will be a “huge relief” to be fully vaccinated.
“It is nice that I have much less chance of getting (COVID-19),” she said.
Oregon approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 16- and 17-year-olds starting April 19.
But because the vaccine must be stored at much colder temperatures than the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Pfizer doses aren’t as readily available in Baker County and much of rural Oregon, where health departments generally lack freezers that can reach the required temperature.
Of the 10,242 vaccine doses administered in Baker City, less than 1% — 902 — were Pfizer, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
Sarah said she started reading about COVID-19 vaccines long before she became eligible.
She said she quickly became convinced that the vaccines, though they were developed more rapidly than previous types, were “well-researched” and were both safe and effective.
“I was sure I was going to get (the vaccine),” Sarah said. “It wasn’t something I was afraid to do.”
She said her arm was a bit sore after her first dose, and she was slightly fatigued, but she had no other side effects.
Although under Oregon law minors as young as 15 can have certain medical procedures — including vaccinations — without parental approval, Sarah discussed the COVID-19 vaccine with her parents.
“Sarah took it upon herself,” Faith Plummer said. “We really support her decision. It’s important.”
In common with her BHS classmates, Sarah had online classes for the spring 2020 semester and for the early part of the current school year.
BHS students returned to classes for one day per week on Nov. 9, 2020, and for two days per week starting Jan. 25, 2020. High schoolers have had the option of in-person classes on their regular four-day weekly schedule since April 12.
“School has been very difficult this year,” Sarah said.
Although Baker County Health Department officials have said there’s no evidence that COVID-19 has spread in any schools, more than 50 students and staff across the district have tested positive, requiring that they quarantine at home for around two weeks. Some other students, who didn’t test positive but were close contacts with a classmate who did, also have had to take online classes from home temporarily.
Sarah said it has been “stressful” to wonder whether she would have to quarantine due to being a close contact.
She worried about losing not only time in classrooms, but also varsity tennis matches she’s enjoyed this spring.
Once Sarah has had her second shot and is fully vaccinated, she wouldn’t have to quarantine even if contact tracing identifies her as a close contact with someone who tested positive.
Although people 60 and older are vastly more likely to have severe symptoms if they’re infected, Sarah said she knows local teenagers who have had “serious complications” after testing positive.
“I know there is a risk,” she said.
Sarah said she was eager to be vaccinated both to protect herself and to potentially prevent herself from unknowingly spreading the virus if, as is common with younger people, she was infected but didn’t have any symptoms.
Sarah said she knows just a handful of classmates who have been vaccinated.
“I think I’m kind of in a minority of people in my age group who got it early,” she said.
Sarah said she’s talked with other teenagers who do plan to be vaccinated.
But many others said they definitely won’t be inoculated.
“That’s frustrating to me,” Sarah said.
The Baker County Health Department administered first doses of the Pfizer vaccine to 27 BHS students at the school-based health clinic last week.
As of Wednesday., a total of 88 Baker County residents, ages 16 to 19, had been partially or fully vaccinated.