On Dec. 11, 2020, I had hope. Pfizer had released the COVID-19 vaccine. My eyes, strained from reading too many news reports about rising cases and spending countless hours on Zoom, looked to my parents who had just read the news. Smiles spread across our faces, as we dreamt life might return to normal. It wouldn’t be long before this hope was diminished.
I was still 15 at the time of the vaccine’s release, but by March 31, 2021, I was standing in line to get my first shot at the Oglethorpe Recreational Center. I was eager to get the vaccine after waiting until enough residents 65 and older had gotten their chance first. It felt like a no-brainer. I wondered if those who were vaccinated might not have to wear masks when we went back to school in August.
After my second dose, I felt invincible. I even dabbled in going to grocery stores without a mask. Looking back, that feels irresponsible, but with reason to believe I was safe from getting and spreading the virus, I didn’t see why I should wear one.
The delta variant quickly diminished this confidence. Clarke County School District mandated masks for the return to the 2021-22 school year amidst spiking COVID-19 cases that brought hospitals to maximum capacity. For the week of Sept. 6, CCSD high schools paused for a week of virtual instruction with 526 new district cases in the last 30 days at the time. With only 44% of Athens Clarke County residents fully vaccinated, and University of Georgia (UGA) students back in town without mask or vaccination requirements, there are ample opportunities for Athens cases to rise.
What scares me the most about these statistics is how full hospitals are. People have had to travel out of state to reach hospitals with available beds. A man from Cullman, Alabama died of a cardiac emergency in Mississippi after hospital staff initially contacted 43 hospitals that had full ICUs. My heart is wrenched for hospital staff who work tirelessly day after day for unvaccinated people who refuse the resources to protect themselves from this virus.
Over the past couple of months, I have heard many different theories as to how the vaccine is ineffective or harmful to our health. I’ve heard peers discuss vaccinated people who have still gotten COVID-19. They fail to acknowledge that after initially contracting the virus, unvaccinated people are more than twice as likely to be reinfected with COVID-19 as vaccinated peers. Additionally, getting vaccinated reduces one’s chance of becoming severely ill, getting hospitalized or dying. There are many other vaccines we receive that do not guarantee us 100% immunity from getting sick, like the flu shot which I and many others receive every year.
Unfortunately, I see how much misinformation contributes to vaccine hesitancy, including myths about the vaccine containing microchips, magnetizing people or altering DNA. None of these theories have data to back them up, and they have all been disproven by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A prevalent hesitancy that I can understand comes from people worrying that because the vaccine is so “new,” there will eventually be side effects. But data shows that adverse side effects from vaccines almost always “show up within the first two weeks, and certainly by the first two months,” according to Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, as quoted across various media sources.
It’s unfortunate that this vaccine has become so highly politicized because it hasn’t always been this way. In 1990, when a measles outbreak swept across UGA, staff and students under the age of 24 were required to get vaccinated. Those who didn’t comply were simply banished from school, and paychecks were withheld from staff. Students were eager to get it taken care of, waiting in long lines to get their shot. It was the logical thing to do, but the times were different.
I’m not extremely nervous about dying from COVID-19, primarily because as of Sept. 27, 2021, 86% of reported fully vaccinated deaths were people 65 or older. What does scare me, especially with delta being more than twice as contagious as previous variants, is getting COVID-19 from an unvaccinated peer and unknowingly passing it to my 86-year-old grandmother.
My wish going forward is that my community wakes up. It’s not hard to see the severity of the pandemic if one takes the time to check hospitalization statistics or listen to medical professionals. I’ve had to let go of the hope that life will go back to normal. Instead, my generation just hopes that we can eventually live in safety. I reminisce on the days when we were able to attend AthFest, not wear masks or visit our relatives without worry. If everyone wore masks consistently and got vaccinated, we might finally be able to wake up from this nightmare.