“After getting the vaccine, I felt really excited that something that I had been so scared of for a year was finally coming to an end,” reflected Eva Bradman, a Berkeley High School (BHS) senior in Academic Choice (AC).
Bradman’s sentiments are shared by many who have received the vaccine, as over 13.5 percent of the United States population has been fully vaccinated. With nearly 550,000 Americans dead due to the virus, more vaccinations cannot come soon enough. However, many remain hopeful after Gavin Newsom’s announcement that everyone ages 16 and up will be eligible on April 15.
As of now, vaccinations are focused exclusively on essential workers and those with vulnerabilities, as well as everyone over the age of 50. Consequently, not many teenagers fit the eligibility criteria, and fewer still have received the vaccine. On top of this, of all three approved vaccines in the US, the Pfizer vaccine has the lowest age limit at 16. That restriction further prevents most teens from seeking out the vaccine.
However, Bradman was able to get her first shot after her job working for DoorDash, a food delivery service, made her eligible. Her decision to get the vaccine stemmed from her vulnerability to serious illness from COVID-19 due to asthma, a condition shared throughout her family that prompted her parents to seek out the vaccine as well.
Concern for family members can be a major factor in teen’s decisions to get vaccinated this early, and it was also a major contributing factor for Andrea Morales-Mendoza, a BHS senior in Independent Study (IS). Morales-Mendoza, who was made eligible for the vaccine by her work in childcare as a babysitter and tennis coach, stated, “My grandparents are very old and they need a lot of support, so I take them food and visit them a lot. I’ve been trying to do everything I can to keep them safe, as well as everyone I work with, so getting the vaccine has been really helpful, even though I’m still taking the same precautions.”
Morales-Mendoza also previously had COVID-19, which gave her even further incentive for vaccination. She contracted the virus around the beginning of October and remained sick for four to five weeks, with extreme symptoms like vomiting, migraines, loss of taste, and loss of smell. Because it’s possible to become infected with COVID-19 more than once, many who have experienced it are even more eager to receive the vaccine for fear of re-infection.
But despite many teens’ desires to receive the vaccine, their limited access means most who have been vaccinated work in either the food industry, like Bradman, or in some form of childcare, like Morales-Mendoza. Jesse Kane, a senior at BHS in AC, was made eligible because of his work for DoorDash, similarly to Bradman, but his decision to get vaccinated was due to his plans to work in childcare. Kane stated, “I felt, and also my parents felt, that it was the best thing for me to do in terms of their safety and my safety — especially because my plans for the summer include working with a lot of kids in a summer camp, so I didn’t want to put anyone in danger.”
The many different forms of childcare mean there are many different viable options for teens looking for work, and because of the nature of the pandemic and school closures, many families have actually needed increased childcare support. Natalie Frasier, a BHS junior in Berkeley International High School (BIHS), has continued her work as a nanny for several families and was consequently able to get her first shot. Frasier remarked, “After I found out I was eligible, I really wanted to make sure I was keeping the kids I babysit and their families safe because I see them on a really regular basis.”
Similarly, Maia Heller, a junior at BHS in AC, was able to get vaccinated because of her work as a babysitter for approximately four different families on a weekly basis. Though Heller was concerned for the health of families she worked for, her primary motivation for receiving the vaccine was her mother. Heller stated, “I decided to get the vaccine mainly because my mom was really concerned about getting sick, and I knew if I got vaccinated, I had less of a chance of possibly spreading it to other people.”
Some controversy has arisen regarding whether or not teens should get the vaccine, as there are often others who are more at risk from COVID-19. As teenagers, it’s likely that, if they do contract the virus, their symptoms won’t be as severe, and they will have a faster recovery. With limited vaccine doses, the eligibility system is made to prioritize those who need them most, and that’s one of the reasons it can be difficult for teens to get vaccinated.
However, for teens that are eligible, concern for the health of others is often at the root of their decision to get the vaccine. Frequently, teens are the ones with the most COVID-19 exposure within their families, with many having extracurriculars, jobs, some forms of in-person schooling, or friends they pod with. By getting vaccinated, those teens are ensuring that they don’t contract or spread the virus, for the sake of themselves, but also for the sake of their families. Overall, the decision of whether to get vaccinated is now a choice that every person must make for themselves, and as more and more teens are given the opportunity, that decision is up to them.