A Virginia couple was heartbroken after they lost their 10-year-old daughter to COVID-19. They quickly pulled their youngest child from school and got him vaccinated.

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Jeff and Teresa Sperry told Insider they were heartbroken after losing their daughter to COVID-19 in September.Nicole Sperry
  • A Virginia family is still recovering from the loss of their 10-year-old daughter.

  • Teresa Sperry, a fifth grader, died after contracting COVID-19.

  • Weeks later, her brother, 9, received the Pfizer vaccine in her honor.

The holiday season has been difficult for the Sperry family after losing their 10-year-old daughter in September.

"My daughter's two favorite holidays were Christmas and Halloween," said Jeff Sperry, whose family lives in Virginia. "Halloween was hard because we got her a mask and carved her a pumpkin. We took it to her grave, and I took some candy out there for her. I could tell you for Christmas it's going to be hard."

Teresa Sperry, 10, died from complications of the virus on September 27, about a month before the first coronavirus vaccine for children was authorized. Jeff and his wife, Nicole, said that when Teresa, who was a fifth grader at Hillpoint Elementary School in Suffolk, first started having symptoms, she had a high fever and headaches.

"She was very healthy and active. She was a pure soul around other people. She was the type of person that always gave compliments to complete strangers," Nicole said. " She loved being around other people and just being helpful."

Although it's unclear how Teresa contracted the virus, her parents have said that she was tasked with the classroom job of walking sick and hurt children to the nurse's office days before she died.

"She came home, and she let me know that she is the class nurse. And I said, 'What is a class nurse? What is this job? What do you mean?' And she said that it was her job to take anybody that was sick or hurt to the nurse," Jeff recalled. "It blew my mind. Because, one, this is the middle of the freaking pandemic. Two, she's unvaccinated. Three, nobody bothered to let me know this was happening. I had no idea."

Suffolk Public Schools investigated the incident and disputed their claims. It said the staff followed the school's COVID-19 protocol. A spokesperson, citing the nurse, told The Virginian-Pilot that Teresa had escorted a student who had injured his ankle to the nurse's office.

"Our staff did adhere to the protocol," the spokesperson told the outlet. "If a student is sick, an administrator comes and walks them down. That part was upheld."

"We stand by what Teresa told us," Nicole said. "She is not the type of person that would've lied about something like that."

Now, the Sperry family is encouraging other parents to get their children vaccinated

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Teresa Sperry and her little brother, Michael.Nicole Sperry

When the Food and Drug Administration authorized Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, the update was bittersweet for the Sperrys.

"When I heard the news that it was finally available for kids, I was so excited. But then heartbroken because we found out around a month after Teresa had passed. And so, it broke my heart to know that it was that close to being too late for her," Nicole said.

Read more: What to know about the first authorized coronavirus vaccine for kids

Virginia has ranked as one of the top states in the nation for high vaccination rates, state officials said. After Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine was made available to children ages 5 to 11, Virginia health officials said there was "high interest among parents of young children who want to get them protected from COVID-19."

"This is an important step in keeping our children safe from severe disease. It also helps decrease disruptions at school because children won't have to be pulled out of classes for quarantine if they are fully vaccinated," said Dr. Danny Avula, Virginia's state vaccination liaison, a statement showed. Last month, the state announced plans to add vaccination data for children to its dashboard.

Weeks after their daughter's death and the Pfizer authorization, the Sperrys, in partnership with their local YMCA, hosted a vaccine clinic in Teresa's honor. Teresa's 9-year-old brother, Michael, received his first Pfizer shot at the clinic. The couple said their two teenage sons were also vaccinated.

"I knew once I get fully vaccinated I'll be safe from COVID," Michael said in an interview with WVEC after getting the vaccine. "Seeing people getting better is what Teresa always wanted and I always wanted."

Michael, who attended the same school as his late sister, is now being homeschooled, his parents said.

"With her passing of COVID, we didn't want to take that chance," Nicole said.

Once Michael is fully vaccinated, the Sperrys said they would reconsider sending him back to a school with other children.

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