Throughout this past year, we’ve all been wondering one thing: when will we return to normal life? Due to the mass vaccination efforts within the United States, the day we’ve all been waiting for is now in sight.
The Pfizer Inc. vaccine, which produces a 95 percent efficacy rate protecting against COVID-19, was made available to those 12 years and older in May, making high schoolers eligible. People aged 18 and older are also eligible for the Moderna Inc. vaccine, along with the Johnson and Johnson’s Janssen vaccine. As a result, a sizable group of Berkeley High School (BHS) students have already completed the full vaccination sequence and are considered immune.
As we begin to resume normal life, those who are eligible are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated — not just to protect themselves and their immediate bubble, but to shield anyone they come in contact with. Keeping this in mind, the city of Berkeley is pushing for everyone who can to get vaccinated.
But there are still many Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) students who haven’t gotten vaccinated yet — whether they are too young, or simply don’t want to. With the recent approval of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine in adolescents ages 12 to 15, there is some hope for all teenagers to soon get vaccinated. Those within the school district that are younger than 12, however, still remain ineligible.
After getting fully vaccinated with the Pfizer vaccine, Berkeley International High School (BIHS) junior Sophie Chinn said, “The biggest thing for me was being able to see my grandma again because we used to … see her every week and it was really hard during the pandemic to not see her.” Before getting vaccinated, Chinn’s family was extra careful not to spread the virus to Chinn’s grandmother — a burden that getting vaccinated alleviated. Not being able to see family and friends this past year has taken a toll on many people in our community, which is why Chinn added, “Seeing our grandparents [again] … has been really impactful for our family.”
Many of Chinn’s family members were vaccinated early on, as the majority of them work in education and were made eligible in an earlier tier than the general public. Once vaccinated, Chinn added that, “It was nice for my little brother because — even if he’s not vaccinated — there’s a little more peace of mind with him going to school.”
As many families are sending their children to daycare or school, having the adults in the household be vaccinated has made families feel less worried about things opening up once again. As Chinn’s sister — who is currently 15 — becomes eligible for the vaccine, many her age will begin the vaccination process. She concluded, “The more people that get vaccinated, the better.”
With only some BUSD students eligible for the vaccine, our community faces an urgent concern of how to handle having a partially vaccinated population that is eager to return to a life that resembles the one we lived before the pandemic. As we approach the return to school, sports and “normal” interactions many teens participate in have already made drastic changes to their everyday lives. More people are transitioning to seeing their friends and family in person, traveling, and more.
Even within BHS, three COVID-19 cases were already confirmed among members of the boys’ basketball team, further exemplifying the importance of safety.
As a great deal of individuals still remain partially vaccinated, pods, bubbles, and households have grappled with the new “freedom” the vaccine has provided, continuing to follow COVID-19 protocols, so that the unvaccinated members of their circles can stay safe. Each family has handled this situation differently, with some saying that they won’t return to pre-pandemic life until everyone they share germs with is vaccinated, while others have already fostered some semblance of life before the pandemic.
Karen Tompkins, a Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) parent who has received both doses of the Pfizer Inc. vaccine said, “Honestly, not much has changed since I received the vaccine because I’m still worried about protecting my community, and, also, [two of my kids] aren’t yet eligible for the vaccine.” With kids who are too young for the vaccine, Tompkins has not changed her day-to-day movements much, in favor of protecting those in her family who cannot get vaccinated.
A report from ABC7 shows that 99 percent of eligible adults in Tompkins’ zip code area, 94707, have had at least the first dose of the vaccine. After learning this, Tompkins has “been a little less strict with wearing my mask when exercising in the neighborhood.”
Her 17-year-old gets together more often with his vaccinated friends now that he is vaccinated as well, though he has still been wearing a mask and gathering strictly outdoors. Tompkins’ youngest child is 6 years old and will get vaccinated as soon as she can. “From the news I’ve read, this won’t be until September — at the earliest,” Tompkins alleged.
In an effort to shield the unvaccinated members of her household, Tompkins concluded, “As a family, we are avoiding significant travel again this summer in order to protect those who are still vulnerable to this disease.”
During a once-in-a-lifetime kind of year, more and more people are getting vaccinated with the hope of protection against COVID-19, ultimately allowing us to return to some semblance of normalcy. With pods, households, and bubbles only partially vaccinated, many members of our community are in limbo between their current lives and the ones they lived before the pandemic. Although things are strange, this stage is a necessary step on the road to recovery.