When ELHS senior Sydney Greenway was about to receive her first vaccine dose against Covid-19 through Sparrow on Feb. 6, she was excited. And once she had received her second dose about three weeks later, a sense of relief crashed over her. After months of enduring the pandemic, Greenway felt significantly better about her health when going out in public.
Greenway is one of nearly 110,000 people who have received a Covid-19 vaccination in Ingham County since vaccines began rolling out in December 2020. Soon, more students at ELHS could be added to this tally.
Students have a range of feelings about vaccination, but an overwhelming majority plan to receive a shot.
In order to gauge ELHS student views on vaccination, Portrait, the ELHS student newspaper, sent out a survey to students in late March, and 153 people responded.
Most students did want to receive a vaccine at some point; only 5.9 percent of respondents said they would not get vaccinated. Comparatively, over half of the respondents said they would receive the vaccine. Another 32.7 percent of respondents would get the vaccine once eligible or as soon as possible, with an additional 22.9 percent already vaccinated.
ELHS senior Grace Russo, who has been vaccinated, hopes that more vaccinations will help with a return to normalcy.
“I trust science and I want to be safe when I go out in public and want to help the country get on the right track when it comes to recovering from the Covid pandemic,” Russo said.
The remaining 14.4 percent of respondents responded with “maybe.” However, many in this category wanted to receive a vaccine, but were not too concerned about receiving one soon or did not have a solid plan, with only a few holding off because of doubts related to vaccination.
But without approval for the usage of vaccines on people aged 12 to 15, ELHS faces a problem.
The survey showed that ineligible students accounted for 24.2 percent of respondents, but the real percentage is most likely higher since some ineligible students answered as if they were eligible, contributing to mostly the “yes” and “maybe” categories. Currently, only Pfizer-BioNTech is available for teens age 16 and 17. Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are available only for individuals age 18 and older.
But many who still picked “ineligible,” such as freshman Mackenzie Smith, said they would get vaccinated if they were eligible. “I would really like to get the vaccine, but I am only 14 and not currently eligible,” Smith said. “If there is a vaccine available for people under the age of 16 then I would happily get it.”
More students may become eligible soon, since Pfizer-BioNTech just recently announced high efficacy for its vaccine in 12–15 year-olds and is applying for approval from the FDA.
Supply has not proven to be a problem for 16 and 17 year-olds, and ICHD continues to encourage people within the 16–18 age group to sign up to be vaccinated. (You can make an appointment here.) Fifteen year-olds can also create an appointment to get vaccinated once they turn 16.
Ineligibility will likely prove to be a bigger obstacle for vaccinations than distrust among ELHS students.
According to the survey, confidence in the vaccine is high, with 69.9 percent of respondents rating their confidence an eight or higher on a scale of one through ten. Only 3.9 percent rated their confidence a one, with the remaining 26.2 percent of respondents mostly giving ratings of between five and seven.
Several respondents noted that their confidence was below a ten only because they were not confident in a vaccine’s ability to end the pandemic, saying other precautions must be taken as well. These feelings are echoed by public health officials and medical professionals, who continue to emphasize the importance of physical distancing and mask wearing.
“Quite honestly, one of the reasons we’re seeing this surge in cases is that people have let their guard down significantly,” Ingham County Health Officer Linda Vail said to reporters at a Mar. 31 press conference. “Additional restrictions don’t necessarily fix a lot of things when the general prevailing opinion is people are getting vaccinated, and we don’t need to worry about this anymore.”
Concern about side effects, whether mild or severe, was also prevalent among students. Health officials emphasize that side effects are normal, and that severe side effects are rare. An information sheet is given out to those who receive the vaccine in most locations, and contains necessary information related to side effects.
Some students also expressed doubts and confusion as to what emergency authorization meant, but many recognized that all three vaccines approved for emergency use are both safe and effective.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about the vaccine. There are side effects of every vaccine so this really can’t be a ‘bad’ vaccine,” Luke Vitale, an ELHS junior, said. “Of course you’ll have some moments where you think ‘well, what if it doesn’t work’ but I have had a bunch of family members get it with no issues whatsoever.”
Despite concerns, students and health officials see vaccines as a path toward normalcy.
Vail also stressed the importance of having enough students vaccinated, saying that not having enough vaccinated students could result in the health department or other authority having to “exclude [non-vaccinated students] from school” during an outbreak, comparing a Covid-19 outbreak to a pertussis or measles outbreak. Both of these diseases have vaccines, as well as people who have opted to not receive a vaccination. Much like Covid-19, measles can easily spread without a vaccine.
Even though risks remain despite vaccinations, students generally look forward to resuming activities as normal once it is safe for everyone involved to do so.
Greenway, who is fully vaccinated, is personally excited to do more with her friends. While she has met with her friends in “neutral” spaces such as picnics, thrift stores and walking around, she has not been able to meet with friends in their own homes.
“I am excited to be able to be with my friends in one of our houses and be able to actually talk and spend time together,” Greenway said. “I have missed the stuff I always took for granted like hugs and sleepovers that you can’t replicate with social distancing.”
A previous version of this article ran through Portrait, the student newspaper at East Lansing High School.