SPICER — The first weekend he was eligible for it, 14-year-old Kaden Toutges had his mother Amanda take him for his first vaccine against COVID-19.

His older brother Mason, 18, had gone in on his own when it was his age group’s turn, as had the adults in the family — mom Amanda Toutges and her fiancée Linda Nelson.

Kaden got his shot at Carris Health — Willmar Lakeland Clinic in early May, the first weekend he was eligible.

Kaden had multiple reasons for getting the shots. “To do my part in the community and help people, to show you can get the vaccine, and it will help you be safe from the virus,” he said in a recent interview.

Plus, “now I don’t have to wear a mask, and I’m being safe.”

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The most touching reason: “I’m helping my grandma, because she had cancer, so if we go to family gatherings, she’s safe.”

Kaden is a multi-sport athlete, playing baseball along with lifting weights and going to football and basketball practice this summer. He’ll be a ninth-grader at New London-Spicer High School this fall.

Wearing a mask for sports was difficult last year, and it was one of the motivating factors for him.

Kaden’s mother, Amanda Toutges, said four of their family members have been vaccinated now, with 6-year-old Rogan still waiting. He still wears a mask in some places.

“I think we all feel a little safer in the community,” she said.

Mason will be leaving next month to attend the University of Dubuque, where he'll play baseball. While it wasn't a requirement, the university did ask that its players get their shots.

The family has discussions about lots of things, including science, said Amanda, who is a nurse.

“Science is real,” she said, and praised the research and technology that led to the development of the mRNA vaccines family members have received.

“It’s so cool,” she said.

“I think of the flu in 1918, think of how far we’ve come,” she said. “How extraordinary this time is, that we got to be vaccinated very quickly. ... This is a time we will remember, and our children will (say), ‘I was one of the first to be vaccinated.’”

Ali Lesteberg, a nurse and manager of ambulatory nursing services at Carris Health, said many people have been eager to get their shots. She led the Carris vaccination clinics.

“We had many patients who came in and couldn’t wait to be vaccinated,” she wrote in an email. “We had patients who cried tears of joy, asked us to take their picture or shared their stories with us.”

One man, in his 50s, had spent longer than a month in the hospital with COVID-19 and “was so grateful to be vaccinated,” Lesteberg said.

Young adults have been one of the more resistant age groups, she said, and that’s been true in much of the country.

”We certainly see this in our area,” she said. “This age group often feels that COVID-19 is not something that impacts them, resulting in less eagerness to get the vaccine.”

In general, hesitance to get vaccinated showed up once the shots opened up to people younger than 65, and people expressed concerns over safety and effectiveness.

Lesteberg said vaccination rates in the area and in many rural counties lag behind urban areas.

“We know that those who are not vaccinated remain vulnerable to the virus,” she said. “Localized surges will continue as the virus and the variants spread among the unvaccinated.”

Kaden was a little nervous about the vaccine, at first, but he wanted to get it, his mom said.

The first shot of the Pfizer vaccine stung a little, he said, but he didn’t feel sick after either dose. “You’ve got to use the arm, or it gets a little stiff and hurts a bit, but it’s not that bad,” he said.

COVID-19 vaccinations are available at area clinics and pharmacies.

Latest vaccine totals

These are the percentages of people age 12 and older who are vaccinated in area counties as of July 14. People younger than 12 are not yet eligible to be vaccinated:

Big Stone County: 63%

Chippewa County: 57%

Kandiyohi County: 53%

Lac qui Parle County: 61%

Meeker County: 48%

Pope County: 55%

Redwood County: 52%

Renville County: 54%

Stearns County: 50%

Swift County: 55%

Yellow Medicine County: 53%