My son spent his sixth-grade school year at home, and boy was it tough. He missed being with his friends terribly and struggled to stay motivated to do his virtual schoolwork. Helping him with his work while working from home myself was certainly challenging, and we both looked forward to the day he could return to in-person schooling. As difficult as it was, he knew it was the right decision for our family, considering that he has a mom with several autoimmune conditions and elderly grandparents to protect. No fan of needles, he jumped at the opportunity to receive the COVID vaccine, eager to do his part to help us all return to some kind of normalcy. Now that he is back in school, there are still challenges, but he faces them with the same consideration for others and an understanding of the importance of the choices we are making. He doesn’t like wearing a mask [who does?], but he does, knowing it protects his classmates and teachers, and their families. He has some catching up to do [especially in math], but he is not alone, and his teachers are working hard to help everyone. He even got to go to his first dance, something that we wouldn’t have even considered last year.
Despite the progress that has been made, it is disheartening to still see such high COVID numbers, and so many people opposed to both the vaccine and masking. I can understand the hesitancy towards the vaccine – the unknown can be scary, and there seemed to be a lot that was unknown about this virus and the “new” vaccine technology being used. I am fortunate to work every day with doctors who are not only some of the most intelligent people I know, but also the most compassionate, who put my fears at ease. While I may not know exactly everything in the vaccine, the same can be said for any vaccine I’ve ever gotten, and a lot of the food I eat, and the air that I breathe. What concerns me more is the effect COVID might have on my body, or how it might affect my husband or my parents, so I will gladly take my chances with a vaccine over this virus. Fortunately, the vaccine has been shown to be very safe and incredibly effective, and I am so grateful that my family and I have that protection. Imagine if we all had that protection, and COVID was a thing of the past!
We all have the right to decide what is best for us, but when our choices affect other people, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and make our decisions based on the best evidence available. Multiple studies have shown that masking helps to slow the spread of COVID, and the vaccines are safe and effective. It’s ok to have questions and concerns, and to seek out reputable sources to find the answers. When in doubt, talk to your doctor.
My heart goes out to all of the kids living through this – wearing masks all day, struggling to catch up with schoolwork, dealing with the uncertainty and anxiety we are all feel every day. I also empathize with teachers, who truly are the unsung heroes of this whole ordeal. Having several teachers in my family, I know firsthand many of the challenges they face – vaccine hesitancy among students, parents knowingly sending their kids to school sick, not enough substitutes, trying to keep track of make-up work for sick or quarantined students, little guidance from the state, burnout and exhaustion. At some schools, teachers are being told to quarantine only if they start showing symptoms of illness, despite being exposed to COVID. With not enough substitutes, and parents demanding that schools remain open, teachers must cover multiple classes at once, making social distancing impossible. We may have returned to fully in-person school, but when whole classes have to be dedicated to make-up work, and there aren’t enough teachers to go around, it is impossible to provide the level of education our children deserve. Many teachers are quitting. What will happen if this continues? We are heading for a crisis if nothing changes.
Get the vaccine, wear a mask, look out for each other – these are the simplest and bravest things we can do, and the only way we can hope to end this pandemic and get back to some kind of normal life. It truly is our civic duty, much like during the time of the polio vaccine. Now is the time to put COVID in the past. It may take a little courage, and a whole lot of faith, but if my 12-year-old can do it, we all can, and be better for it.
Jennifer Thatcher, proud parent of two, Millville