HAMILTON — Nearly one million younger children in the United States have already received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and another 700,000 are scheduled for their first shots in the coming days.
The new numbers come from the White House just one week after children five to eleven years old became eligible to get vaccinated. But it's also the latest rift to divide America's small towns as parents decide whether to vaccinate their kids or avoid the shots because of unknown risks.
It's hard to find a Montana small town "more" American than Hamilton. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic in the Bitterroot continues to push patriotism and community into different corners.
That was evidenced Tuesday when Bitterroot Drug sponsored the Valley's first vaccination clinic for kids, meeting the demand for "anxious parents", especially in front of the holidays.
"It gives a lot of the families just a much better comfort level as we get together for Thanksgiving and Christmas and college kids coming back. Yeah, I think people are going to feel a lot more comfortable with this,” noted Bitterroot Drug co-owner Pete Seifert.
"We wanted to be able to put our kids back in sports and be at school and know that they were protected in the best way possible,” Hamilton parent Cara Bushmaker told MTN News.
Bushmaker called the shot a "layer of comfort", and the other parents we talked with agreed -- some with deeply emotional reasons.
"A year ago, today I started with some really mild symptoms that ultimately turned out to be a positive COVID test,” Hamilton parent Rachael Shea recalled. "I was in the emergency room, on medication. I was really sick. It was not just a little cold for me."
Shea says she still has health problems, bringing tears to her eyes as 7-year-old Evelynn received her shot.
"I had a big reaction when she was getting the vaccine because I also remember a year ago, I couldn't protect my daughter from this virus that was so unknown to many of us,” Shea said.
"But to share a home, with my children and to know that I got so sick, so today it's a time to celebrate for sure,” continued Shea.
But there's a different side. Demonstrators outside the school were expressing fears about proper testing as the child COVID-19 shots have rushed to market.
"So, we don't know what the long-term side effects will be at this point. So, our reason for being out here is hopes that people would do their research. We are hoping that you know, people would really look into it and be more aware of what could potentially happen to their children from this vaccine." - Hamilton resident Gabrielle Stamper
Some of the demonstrators questioned Bitterroot Drug giving the shots, but co-owner, and school board member Jenny Seifert, told MTN News the business has been giving all vaccinations for 15 years, with most of the proceeds back to the district.
We asked Stamper if she was as tired of it as everybody on the other side of the debate.
"Absolutely. I think if we dig really deep, and try to find the root of the problem and see what's really going on. Why are we being forced to [get a] vaccine that Congress, the Biden Administration, illegal immigrants, many others, are not mandated to have?” Stamper said.
“But yet, our health care workers, law enforcement, all these airlines, are mandated to have and losing their jobs over it. My question is that people would ask why,” Stamper continued.
"Every little thing that we can do is another layer of protection, and I feel like, to help them. And that's why we give any vaccine. And so, we thought this is just a great opportunity to be able to do something that makes us feel better at night. That we're doing the best possible thing. We know we're doing, with the information we have, the best that we can." - Hamilton parent Cara Bushmaker