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This past year of COVID-19 restricted life hasn’t been easy for any of us. But in December 2020, many began to see a light at the end of the tunnel as two vaccines, developed by the pharmaceutical companies Moderna and Pfizer, were approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to begin being administered to United States residents.
Currently, the vaccine rollout is in the early stages of a three-phase plan by the CDC to vaccinate America’s population, while balancing the goals of preventing mortality and preserving societal function. This means that as of early March, the vaccines have been restricted to health care personnel, seniors 75 years and older, and frontline essential workers, with few exceptions.
However, this slice of our community has given us a peek into how our lives may (or may not) be changing in the coming months, as more people get vaccinated.
Will Emde, a Junior at Chamblee, whose family has received the vaccine, discussed how it has made his family’s role as caregivers for his grandparents easier.
“Both my parents and their mothers both have gotten [the vaccine] because my parents would care for their respective mothers. And so all four of them have the Pfizer vaccine and they’ve gotten both stages,” said Emde. “When we have to go and take care of our grandparents or bring them groceries or whatnot, it’s a lot easier to do, as we know they’re vaccinated, […] I think it has affected my grandparents more than us.”
Emde said he won’t stop being cautious, but the vaccine does free up some possibilities.
“We’re aware that the cases are still going up, we’re aware that they’re still going to be a lot of this. So there’s always an impending sense of doom,” he said. “However, my brother and I have talked about going back to in-person school, because if all of the adults in my family have a vaccine then I wouldn’t have to worry about them getting sick as much.”
Emde is not the only one for which the vaccine meant easier connection with family. Sarah Patterson, the grandmother of a Chamblee student, described how it improved her social life.
“We had relatives outside, but we didn’t make them sit six feet away,” she said. “I feel more comfortable with it now but I still want to be outside with people, […] so somewhat more comfortable but not complacent.”
` For other families, the vaccine signified the beginning of a return to normalcy. Chamblee senior Charles Jackson said that he has already seen a change in his family’s life due to the vaccine.
“My mom, my dad, and my step-mom all have [received] both of their shots […] within the last two weeks,” he said. “they’re definitely more comfortable going out in places now–their whole deal has been, ‘once I get the vaccine, this’ll be fine,’ so they’re definitely more comfortable grocery shopping, you know, restaurants, all that regular life stuff.”
John Douglas, a 12th grader at Chamblee, said the vaccine impacted his parents’ work. In addition to both of his parents being vaccinated, Douglas himself is participating in a vaccine trial through Morehouse College.
“My dad [is] a professional percussionist, and over the break, decided to tutor people,” he said. “And over that time he had to do it through technology, but now he has the vaccine and is a lot more comfortable going up to Johns Creek […] to do it in person.”
By contrast, Patricia Denning, a long time member of the Chamblee community, said her life has not been changed at all by being vaccinated. Denning is a neonatologist, who works in a hospital, and takes care of newborns that need intensive care.
“In general, hospitals want to still maintain all the safeguards until more people are vaccinated,” she said. “Around the time when I was getting the vaccine, […] was around the time that all the new strains were known to be coming to the US that are either more infectious or deadly or both. And so that has made me more worried, such that I haven’t changed anything. So I’m still doing all the same precautions because it just seems like we have to get ahead of these mutant strains or we’re just going to be like this forever.”
Looking to the future, however, people seem to be best described as cautiously optimistic.
“I am more optimistic because I know that there is a solution,” said Emde. “However it presents its own problems, because [people are saying] as soon as they get the vaccine, they’re like, ‘ah we don’t need these precautions and whatnot and I’ll throw away my mask.’ And that is what they’ve said is going to cause another wave of it, as you can still be a carrier. And so [the vaccine] solved some things and made me see a light at the end of the tunnel. However, it brought more problems with it.”
Douglas said he thinks the vaccine will be all about comfort going forward.
“I think over time it will allow people to be more comfortable with just feeling safer because right now a lot of people are worried about the future,” he said. “Like, will this virus get worse? Will we have like the new strain that’s coming from South Africa and the UK? But overall, […] I think it’s going to be alright, however I do worry about the younger people who are going to get much later than elderly people.”
Meanwhile, Denning is taking it one step at a time.
“I think if we can get a significant proportion of the general population vaccinated before [the virus] mutates to where it’s not being covered, then I think that’ll help us to open up, but it just feels like a race right now,” she said. “So I guess we’ll just see where we are, you know, it just seems like month by month things change, […] a year ago we didn’t think we’d be doing this. […] From a hospital and public health perspective, I think just trying to do as many safeguards as possible to control the spread until we can get it under control and get everybody vaccinated is kind of what we’re hoping for.”