The Vaccine Dilemma: NYC’s Journey Back to Normalcy
Issue 9, Volume 111
With the recent approval of the Moderna and Pfizer COVID-19 vaccines by the FDA, rapid distribution to millions of frontline health workers, essential workers, and the elderly has begun in hopes of subduing the coronavirus. Among these frontline workers are teachers and counselors who run schools such as Stuyvesant. Eventually, the vaccine will be available to students too, but only if they agree to receive it. The 90-95 percent effectiveness rate, though a great relief for many, doesn’t provide full reassurance to all. From freshmen with four months of virtual high school under their belts to seniors anxiously awaiting their reunion with fellow grads, these are anxious times for everyone.
Most Stuyvesant students hope to take the vaccine. They have a strong desire to reunite with their family, some of whom they haven’t seen since last spring, catch up with friends, and return to a classroom setting. Sophomore Navid Zunaid explained why he believed that it was so important for everyone to take the vaccine as soon as possible. “The way I see it is, the longer we are here in this pandemic, this lockdown, [the worse it’s going to be] for the nation’s health in many ways. Obesity’s going up. Mental health issues are going up like crazy,” he said. “I think that is one of the downsides of COVID-19 lockdowns because even though […] they’re preventing COVID-19, they’re causing a host of other issues you know that aren’t so easy to solve.”
However, the vast majority of students have decided that they would prefer to wait an indefinite period of time before taking the vaccine. Influenced by different family members and the lack of clinical trials on the teenage age group, many remain wary of its safety. “I recently heard that someone who got the vaccine got face paralysis […] Just that factor of being in the unknown and unsure about the drawbacks of the vaccine is making me iffy about getting it,” freshman Bishesh Shah remarked.
Freshman Kevin Chan had similar thoughts on the vaccine, saying, “Since it's still really new, I'm not sure if it's completely safe to take; and especially since I don't plan on leaving the house, I would rather not take it.” Without the vaccine, both Shah and Chan plan on continuing to stay home, social distance, and wear masks.
Zunaid, though proceeding warily, is assured by some aspects of the vaccine. “One of the things that makes me more reassured about taking the vaccine is that major world leaders and also the military are getting it first. These are people the government has a marked incentive to take care of. This is one thing that reassures me,” he said. In addition, he mentioned that there may be vaccination passports required in the future to travel internationally and that the vaccine will be strongly mandated, two factors that would push him to take the vaccine as well.
For other students, the most influencing factor has been their family members. Sophomore Frances Schwarz comes from a relatively conservative family, and her father is against the use of vaccines. Because she herself is more liberal, the topic of vaccines causes some debates within her household. “Every day, I just hear ‘the vaccine is gonna kill us,’ and with the whole coronavirus pandemic, he says it just ends up stripping us of our […] freedom of choice,” Schwarz said.
Yet some people argue that a return to normalcy is well worth the risks that come with the vaccine. A vaccine would mean the reopening of schools. A vaccine would mean a change in students’ lives. Shah looks forward to the rekindling of connections, saying, “Kids during this time are definitely struggling with school […] I'll start to build more connections. It would be so much easier than talking on the screen.”
However, Schwarz is wary of the return to school. “I don’t know […] I’m scared as of now because it’s winter and [there are] new strains of COVID right now. So I still feel hesitant about saying, ‘Oh yeah, I’ll just go to school,’” she said.
For some people, getting the vaccine is no longer a hypothetical—it really happened. Assistant Principal of Pupil Personnel Services Casey Pedrick received the Moderna vaccine on January 10, 2021. She was delighted by how efficiently hospitals are carrying out the vaccine. “I felt it was run very well at Queens Hospital. I could tell that there was a particular woman who was in charge, and you go into the main area […] And as I was exiting, I even went to the woman who I could tell was in charge and just told her she was doing a great job and that I could tell that she was running a very tight shift,” Pedrick explained. Some of Pedrick’s relatives contracted COVID-19. She hoped that by getting the vaccine, she would be helping accomplish the goal of herd immunity in Queens, where COVID cases are the third-highest of the boroughs.
For counselor Sandra Brandan, receiving the vaccine was a sigh of relief, as she had severe symptoms of COVID-19 in March and tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies in May. Brandan took the vaccine as a shield, as she didn’t want to become re-infected by the coronavirus. Brandan is what many health experts call a “long-hauler,” who are people who still have remnants of the coronavirus after experiencing the majority of severe symptoms, which include difficulty breathing, extended periods of lost taste and smell, and increased heart rate while doing simple tasks such as sitting down. “I really don’t want to go back to where I was in March, April, May, the summertime, [when] every other week felt like I was going to the ER thinking I was having a heart attack,” Brandan said. At one point, she was a fence-sitter on whether to get the vaccine, but she now has little regrets considering her health compared to when COVID-19 peaked in NYC around March.
Looking forward, the vaccine is a crucial piece for life to return to normal at schools such as Stuyvesant and to restore education in New York’s facilities. Director of College Counseling Jeffrey Makris regularly meets with juniors and seniors who seek to land a seat in their dream colleges and universities. He explained that the vaccine, although crucial for the economy, is nonetheless a puzzle piece to helping staff become protected against the contagious coronavirus. “There [are] some things that we can do remotely [to] get by, but it doesn’t substitute the real experience of interacting with people on a day-to-day basis. At least vaccinating the professionals that are a bit older [who] might be a little more vulnerable […] is one step to being able to bring everybody back,” he said. Makris reported that he doesn’t have any side effects after taking the vaccine on January 15 and believes that side effects will be minimal.
Despite the alarming number of coronavirus cases in the United States, vaccines are providing hope for many. Students and teachers might get to see each other in 3D. A prom or graduation may not be a wild dream for seniors. Maybe people will… hug. Or high five. Or maybe even just talk without masks. The vaccine is a risk, but perhaps it’s worth a shot. It is a shot.