On April 15, Everyone in California aged 16 and up became eligible for COVID-19 vaccination. Berkeley opened up vaccinations to anyone 16 and older two days prior. Vaccination has since opened up to everyone 16 and older in the US. Due to this expansion in eligibility, Berkeley High School (BHS) students in this age group can now schedule appointments.
Pavithra Lella, a sophomore in Independent Studies (IS) at BHS, recently got vaccinated at Golden Gate Fields. According to Lella, the process of getting vaccinated was less complicated than she expected.
“I was personally looking forward to it because I feel that getting vaccinated is a step forward towards immunity, and as a person who has lost a family member due to [COVID-19], I really believe it is important to get vaccinated so we have less deaths within our community,” Lella said.
While she may feel more comfortable around other fully vaccinated people once she is fully vaccinated herself, according to Lella, “It’s also important to keep in mind that we still need to be careful because not everyone is vaccinated, and we still need to pay attention to safety procedures.”
Liza Gitelman, a junior in Academic Choice (AC) at BHS, also received her first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at Golden Gate Fields. Gitelman is worried about adverse side effects from the second vaccine because she experienced side effects from her first dose. “On the day I got it I kind of got a headache afterwards, which wasn’t that bad because I get headaches a lot. But then yesterday it was kind of just like having a cold … and my arm was super sore,” she said.
However, Gitelman is looking forward to having less worry about contracting COVID-19 once she is fully vaccinated.
Le’ Onnyi Buckley, a senior in AC, has not yet scheduled an appointment to be vaccinated. Buckley has concerns about the long-term effects of COVID-19 vaccines, which were furthered by the news of blood clots experienced by 15 women after receiving the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. The US paused the distribution of the J&J vaccine on April 13, and resumed administering it on April 23.
According to Buckley, she and her family have also been hesitant to get vaccinated due to harm the US medical system has caused to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). “My family has a long history of distrust in the US medical system, and that is like a lot of Black families or families of color … Me and my family … we are focused on a lot of natural ways we can boost our immune systems,” she said.
Buckley has had conversations with peers with different opinions on getting vaccinated, and is open to being vaccinated in the future. “I’m not completely closed off to the idea, especially because I’m going off to college and I may have to take the vaccine in order to stay on campus. I still am not completely sure how to feel about it, but I know my feelings are not completely negative,” Buckley said.
As reported by the Alameda County Vaccine Dashboard, 43.1 percent of Berkeley’s population above age 16 is fully vaccinated as of April 25. According to City of Berkeley Health Officer, Dr. Lisa Hernandez, around 70 to 80 percent of the population 16 and up would need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity, taking into account the fact that COVID-19 spread in surrounding areas affects the spread in Berkeley.
According to Hernandez, there are multiple factors that make right now a critical point in the progression of the pandemic, including not yet reaching herd immunity, people taking COVID-19 precautions less seriously, and the circulation of COVID-19 variants. “Those three things – the mixture of how many people are vaccinated and us not meeting that threshold of safety yet with herd immunity, people getting tired and letting their guard down, and the third piece being the [COVID-19] variants that kind of make this a tricky time for us. I think we can beat this virus and be in a better place … but we still have work to do to get us there,” Hernandez said.