Although the COVID-19 vaccine has been finalized and is ready for distribution, there has been an ongoing conversation about whether or not it is safe to receive it. Students and staff within the RHS community have much to say on the topic, as well as professionals both inside and outside of Ridgewood.
Students had a variety of opinions about this matter. Emma Piotrowski, a freshman, stated, “The vaccine being administered to both teachers and students is absolutely necessary if we ever want schools to go back in-person. Despite the talking points about how kids are less affected by COVID-19, I still think that kids need to be vaccinated before everyone can go to school. It is reckless to ignore kids with underlying conditions (and even kids without them) who are negatively impacted if they contract COVID-19. There has even been a COVID-19 related condition reported in kids. Overall, the sooner the vaccine is able to be administered to kids, the sooner we can go back to school and the sooner that things will be a bit normal again. But until then, we should not rush re-introducing normal schooling.”
On the other hand, Joelle Yoon, who is also a freshman, stated, “I believe that it is not important at the moment for children to get the vaccine. We don’t exactly have jobs other than going to school, and the elderly are the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, so they should be top priority. I am also skeptical of the vaccine’s effects, and we don’t know if it is safe to vaccinate young kids. Everyone should get the vaccine at one point, but people on the front lines against the virus like nurses and doctors or people who have health conditions should have the opportunity to get it first.” Additionally, Nicola Naidoo, a sophomore, commented, “Their priority list should be reassessed. I have asthma so I’m top priority, but it feels weird because I’m being prioritized over the eldery.”
Teachers also had much to say about this topic. Ms. Clarke-Anderson, who teaches at Ben Franklin Middle School and is the teacher advisor for RHS Debate, shared some of the first-hand difficulties of receiving a vaccine, saying, “It seems to me, our state did not do what it was supposed to within the time limit for us to receive the vaccine. It has been difficult for my mom, who is 85, to get the vaccine. The sheriff’s office and the National Guard were in charge of the operation. It took an hour and a half for the whole procedure to be over.” Additionally she remarked, “I do not think anyone should be mandated to get the vaccine; however, they should understand all the ramifications if they do not get it.”
Mr. Appel, RHS social studies teacher, commented, “One question that people have is about their level of confidence in the vaccine, because they’re wary on how it works. I am personally not one of those people, and I have a lot of confidence in the scientific community so I am interested in getting it.” He then went on to say, “I understand someone’s hesitancy, and it’s not my place to question it. I would just encourage them to read different studies and not just rely on rumors. I place confidence that people are basing their decisions based on information and not fear, and in that case I respect that decision.”
Professionals in the field also shared their opinion. Jaehoon Shim, a researcher at Boston’s Children Hospital, remarked, “I am satisfied with the vaccine plan, and I think we are moving the right direction. Older physicians and responders are all vaccinated, and now half of the researchers are vaccinated.”
Additionally, Shim noted on the topic of safety, “The people who work at the vaccination clinics are prepared for anything that could potentially happen to you. When I went to the clinic, they asked me several questions to check my condition and if I had any allergies, and when I received the vaccine, I had to wait for a few minutes for them to make sure that nothing would happen to me. I don’t think people should worry too much about getting vaccinated. I personally felt very safe, and I now feel more comfortable when I work at the hospital.”
Charina Salvador, a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital and the mother of Dan Salvador, a freshman, recounted her experiences working with COVID-19 patients and her frustration with the current vaccine plan.
On the topic of distribution, she commented, “A lot of people I know are very disappointed with the way the distribution of the vaccine is being handled. I for one find it very disorganized and lacking in planning. Scheduling is a nightmare especially for the public. As a frontline worker, I received the vaccine early, but the seniors and people with pre-existing conditions are having such a hard time getting appointments. There are also some people I know who expressed their frustrations because their college kids in dorms who are all living in such close proximity have contracted the virus and they feel that this age group should also have been prioritized in receiving the vaccines. Of course, I also know as an outsider, it is easy to criticize, complain and point fingers regarding this matter. I am certain the people in authority are doing their absolute best to expedite the distribution of the vaccine.”
Furthermore, Salvador commented on whether the vaccine has improved the situation within the hospital, observing, “There is no change noted as of this time, and it is really too early to tell. The acuity of our patient population is still high. Patients either turn for the worst or get better and go home. The staff continue to wear the highest level of PPE, we don’t lower our guards and we encourage everyone to do the same.”
Salvador also shared the harrowing experience of working in the middle of the pandemic. She noted, “I could write a book about my experiences in taking care of COVID-19 patients. In spring, it was an absolute nightmare. I think a lot of the frontline workers have experienced PTSD. I remember how my shift started each day; I’d come in early, but I lingered inside my car sobbing. It was probably the most horrific time in my entire nursing career. I prayed a lot, we all prayed a lot. It was the only thing that kept us all going. Then I enter my unit and I see the terrified faces of my young colleagues. I remember feeling that I had no choice but to be the stronger person to pull them up…well not just me, a lot of the senior nurses, we really all worked together. So I had my own time to be scared, but when we were in the unit, we had to pull ourselves together. It was like a war zone. However, during the second wave, I have to say we were much more informed, knowledgeable, and we dealt with the virus better. There is less fear, but caution is still number one in the list.”
All of this drives the importance of the vaccine, and the crucial role it will play in finally lifting the burden that this community has felt for so long. While it is too early to know the potential consequences and whether the vaccine will truly make a difference, we must continue to support its development and contribute ourselves in any way possible, even if we are still skeptical. In Salvador’s words, “I hope we don’t take this virus lightly. I wish everyone will be responsible enough to keep each other safe. Maybe this virus will not affect you or another person, but it can possibly cause the death of someone’s loved one. We cannot take this risk. We all have to do our part.”
Graphic: Anna Komissarova