From left, Jireh Nyarushati and Dan Ninziza, seniors at Casco Bay High School, talk with the media Tuesday outside the vaccination clinic at the Portland Expo. The two were heading inside to get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Nyarsushati said some of his peers were hesitant to get the vaccine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Jireh Nyarushatsi, a senior at Casco Bay High School in Portland, headed into the Portland Expo on Tuesday for his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

The 18-year-old said he was hesitant at first, but school nurse Becky Bell persuaded him.

“Nurse Bell knows what she is talking about,” he said. “I think it’s important for everyone to get vaccinated, so that we can all help society.”

Nyarushatsi is in the age group that has had the fewest number of vaccinations, and people in their 30s, 20s and teens have been driving recent case counts in Maine. Only about 3 percent of the more than 640,000 residents who have received at least their first dose are younger than age 20, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s database.

The virus is less deadly in younger age groups, with only 17 of the 790 COVID-19 fatalities in Maine occurring in people under age 50. But the virus can still be dangerous in younger patients and cause hospitalizations and long-term health problems. Vaccination helps squelch transmission of the virus, so if enough people get their shots, population immunity will eventually drive down cases and end the pandemic.

Bell, the school nurse at Casco Bay High School, said since Maine opened eligibility on April 7 to everyone 16 and older, she has been working with students to answer their questions about the vaccines, encourage immunization and make appointments. Bell said an estimated 75 percent of Casco Bay High School seniors and about 40 percent of the school population age 16 and older have received at least the first shot.

Dan Ninziza, 18, said younger people are harder to convince because many don’t think the virus is dangerous to younger age groups.

“Us being young people, it’s not going to affect us as much,” said Ninziza, a senior. “But it’s very important for everyone to get it. It’s the best way (for society) to recover.”

For Doaa Abdullah, 18, and a senior at Casco Bay, the calculus was simple.

Casco Bay High senior Doaa Abdullah checks in with a volunteer outside the clinic at the Portland Expo on Tuesday before heading in to get her first shot. Abdullah said she has been encouraging others her age to get the vaccine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“I want to be safe and I want everyone to be safe, and that is what motivated me to get the vaccine,” Abdullah said. She said traveling will also be easier once she is fully vaccinated, and she hopes to vacation in Turkey soon.

Devyn Shaughnessy, 17, and a junior at Casco Bay, needed no convincing. She’s volunteering at the Portland Expo – she does up to four shifts per week – and was getting her second dose Tuesday.

“You will never see a place where people are as happy as a mass vaccination clinic,” said Shaughnessy, who plans to go into a pre-med program after she graduates. “It’s so exciting.”

She said she has mostly worked at validating people’s appointments, their ages and identification. The Expo is accepting walk-in appointments now that demand has weakened.

Shaughnessy said going to school remotely was difficult, and students had a difficult time if they had to quarantine for 10 days because of close contact with someone who contracted COVID-19. Vaccination gives the state and country the best shot at returning to normal, she said.

Casco Bay High School nurse Becky Bell and junior Devyn Shaughnessy speak with members of the media outside the vaccination clinic at the Portland Expo on Tuesday. Shaughnessy volunteers at the clinic and received her second dose Tuesday. She said that she has been encouraging her friends and peers at school to get the vaccine as well. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographe

“I would very much like to see society go back to the way it was,” Shaughnessy said.

The Pfizer vaccine is approved for 16- and 17-year-olds and all three vaccines currently in use in the U.S., Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, are approved for those 18 and older. Pfizer could receive approval from federal health regulators within the next two weeks for use in people ages 12-15.

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