After 20 months of living in fear, Stacy Durand says she feels like she’s one step closer to finally breathing normally.

“It’s just been so terrifying being a parent of little kids,” she said. “They’re so vulnerable, and they have their whole lives ahead of them.”

Durand’s sons, Hans and Finn, are 7 and 3, respectively. Hans is a first-grader at Oakland Terrace Elementary School—he loves it, but it’s been scary for his mom. At one point, she started going to therapy because she was so anxious about letting him go to things like swim lessons over the summer.

“Starting the school year, I was scared to death,” Durand said. “I felt like I was being really hypocritical, like, why am I sending you if I don’t feel it’s safe?”

For the first time earlier this month,, Hans and millions of other 5-11 year-olds were able to receive their vaccine against the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 18,000 kids in the age group signed up for their first vaccine in the first week—a tweet from Montgomery County Councilor Will Jawando says that more than 40 percent of those were from Montgomery County.

Paula Kress, the practice manager for Pediatric Associates in Montgomery County, said the response from parents has been overwhelming. Between their four offices, Pediatric Associates has made over 1,100 vaccine appointments for kids ages 5 to 11.

Kress said the company knew that they would be receiving a shipment of vaccines, but nobody was sure when they would arrive, or how many.

“Then all of a sudden it showed up,” she said.

The office sent out a mass email to all of its patients.

“The response was so incredible that it broke our phone system,” Kress said.

Because the demand was so high at Pediatric Associates and with other health care providers and pharmacies, Durand said she was unsure she would be able to sign her son up for an appointment. But, Hans was able to get vaccinated November 4, the first day he could.

“We were so lucky,” Durand said. “I was holding my breath. I just couldn’t believe it.”

When Hans went to school the next day, Durand said all but two of the kids in his class already had their appointments booked. Right now, when it’s rainy or when the temperature drops below 55 degrees, students at Hans’ school eat inside the cafeteria. This worries Durand, so at lunch time, she picks up Hans, and they have a car picnic outside with his little brother. Once Hans is fully vaccinated, Durand says he’ll be able to eat inside with his friends.

“He’s really hopeful and looking forward to doing lunch at school, which is our plan at this point, absent a new variant,” she said. I’m feeling better and better.”

Hans, who as a toddler once punched a nurse who gave him a shot, was brave the whole time and excited to get the vaccine.

“Once my 3-year old is fully vaccinated, I know I’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief,” Durand said. “This is something tangible, this something real, this is something concrete, and it’s a step towards normalcy for my kids. I’m just so grateful and overjoyed.”

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