Vaccines Critical: All eligible students should be vaccinated against COVID-19 (Staff Editorial)

When the wait for a COVID-19 vaccine finally came to an end with the Dec. 11 announcement that the Pfizer vaccine was available for the general public, normalcy seemed to be on the horizon; those ready to complete two doses could imagine going to school, eating at a restaurant, and going to work — completely unrestricted. It would be a literal breath of fresh air. However, just when people began to line up at vaccination centers, others began to voice their naive opposition to receiving the vaccine. 

As of April 20, more than 26% of York County’s population has been vaccinated.  In addition, 4,111 vaccinated York County residents are ages 16-24, but many high school students are hoping for an increase of teenage vaccination rates now that all Americans 16 and up may be vaccinated.

Many share Dykes’ train of thought, but the issue runs much deeper than people simply not wanting to get the vaccine. The reason why people refuse to show up to their local vaccination centers is because of the heavy politicization of the pandemic and the consequent spread of misinformation — and even purposeful disinformation.

While it is important to advocate for efficient medicine, opposing vaccines feels fruitless when trials and scientists have endorsed them. If a vaccine works, why would people continue to speak against it? Anti-vaxxers have made their case clear.

The anti-vax movement has existed for as long as vaccines have, but the idea surged in popularity in 1998; during this year, Andrew Wakefield, a British physician, published a study in The Lancet. This is the same publication that criticized the efficacy of the smallpox vaccine, which became a part of routine immunization until 1972 when it proved so successful that smallpox was eradicated in the U.S. Wakefield concluded that vaccines can cause conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but he was expelled from the medical registry for his fraudulent and ableist speculations.

Despite the retraction of his work, some people still firmly believe that Wakefield’s experiment is credible. Any reverence for Wakefield’s flawed study should not be entertained by authoritative figures.

 Of course, this is not the case. To combat false claims, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has published many articles explaining the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine, including one titled “Ensuring COVID-19 Vaccines Work.” Readers can click on headers where they explore the safety of the vaccine — understanding this is essential to the digression of the pandemic. 

Especially with new strains of the virus, the CDC still recommends getting vaccinated. The more virulent the B.1.1.7. variant is now affecting high school and college students, who previously had less severe symptoms.

“Current data suggest that COVID-19 vaccines used in the United States should work against these variants,” the CDC’s official statement reads. “For this reason, COVID-19 vaccines are an essential tool to protect people against COVID-19, including against new variants.”

Pfizer recently released a vaccination guide to those 16 and up via the CDC, the purpose being to “reduce morbidity and mortality from coronavirus disease 2019.” Despite vaccine hesitancy in red states like South Carolina, many students remain hopeful that their peers will choose to be vaccinated.

“A lot of Southern people have strong opinions about vaccines and the government,” Dykes says, “but their children are learning differently.”

High schoolers can decide for themselves to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as they are protected by Article Three, Section 63-5-310 of South Carolina law, which states, “Any minor who has reached the age of sixteen years may consent to any health services from a person authorized by law to render the particular health service for himself and the consent of no other person shall be necessary unless such involves an operation which shall be performed only if such is essential to the health or life of such child in the opinion of the performing physician and a consultant physician if one is available.”

Tragically, America’s ignorant, anti-vax past has steadily bled into the present. However, the announcement that teens over 16 can now receive the Pfizer vaccination raises the question, “Can we change the future?” It is in high schoolers’ hands to educate themselves on the matter using reliable sources and critically analyze the media they consume about vaccines.

To live safely with eased restrictions — to finally approach the horizon of what was once normalcy — all students must be vaccinated.    –ARA

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