Students Quickly Secured Vaccines
When Georgia Governor Brian Kemp announced that all state residents 16 and older would be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine on March 25, it didn’t cause a huge stir among AJA’s senior class. All but one of the seniors who have attended school in person this year had already received their first dose of the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech regiment during the previous two weeks.
By the first week after Passover Break, all sixteen seniors had their first shots in the books, and the majority had received both. By that same time, about three-quarters of the junior class had been vaccinated at least once, according to Junior Grade Representative Nina Flusberg. Sophomore grade representatives have not collected data on the percentage of sophomores vaccinated, and not all sophomores are eligible for vaccines due to age restrictions on the FDA authorizations. (Note: This article was written before the FDA expanded authorization of the Pfizer vaccine to ages 12-16.)
The rate of vaccinated AJA upperclassmen far exceeds the national and state rates, particularly among younger people, showing AJA students’ general desire to get vaccinated quickly.
By the first week after Passover break, all sixteen seniors had their first shots in the books, and the majority had received both.
Some students sought out and found vaccine appointments even before they were eligible by age. Starting on March 8, Georgia moved into “Tier 1B,” which included educators. Included in that category were students who work or volunteer for child-care programs like Bnei Akiva and Sunday schools, or who plan to work as camp counselors.
Junior Elliot Sokol said that Camp Stone, where he will work this summer, sent out an email informing counselors that they fell into the childcare category. Similarly, senior Kira Mirmelstein’s “teaching credentials” came from her Sunday school work at Chabad of Gwinnett.
Other students went about finding an early appointment in different ways. Doni Chasen, a senior, said that he drove over to Walgreens to check if they had any leftover doses, receiving one on his third attempt. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that pharmacies give out leftover doses on a first-come-first-serve basis at the end of the day since many would expire overnight.
[F]or most students, protection from the virus was not the primary motivation for getting vaccinated.
Rebecca Solon, a sophomore, added that because of certain medical conditions, her doctor “found a way that wasn’t breaking any protocols” to get her a dose before she was strictly eligible by age criteria.
Not feeling as much of a rush, other students waited until eligibility opened to all of those for whom the vaccines are authorized. Senior Noa Mishli explained she “pushed it off” for a few weeks simply because she couldn’t find vaccination sites close to her house and driving down to the mass state-run site at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was a hassle.
A few of the students Palette talked to mentioned a fear of contracting COVID-19 or spreading it to others, but for most students, protection from the virus was not the primary motivation for getting vaccinated. Elliot said that he is “not someone who was worried about getting sick from COVID.” However, students expressed a desire to “help get life closer to normal,” in the words of senior Katherine Cranman, and they figured vaccination would help that effort. Kira explained, “I just want to be able to hug and be with my friends.”
Peer pressure played a role in student motivations: Doni said that he decided to go out and find leftover doses because “all of my friends were getting [vaccinated] because they were all working at camps, so I wanted to get it, too.” Students anticipated that some of their friends would be more comfortable around vaccinated people, so they were willing to do what it would take not to be left behind.
Following vaccination, students generally verbalized the sentiment that they would gather regularly with vaccinated friends but maintain COVID-19 precautions in public or with those yet to achieve full immunity. This tracks with CDC guidance.
On the other hand, it seems possible that vaccinated students have eased up more than they were willing to let on or say on the record. Students were hesitant to describe how they were now willing to act more freely around vaccinated friends — even in accordance with medical guidance. When one student remarked about their looser behavior post-vaccination, they quickly added, “Maybe you shouldn’t put that in [Palette].” If students were hesitant to acknowledge actions they took within accepted norms, it follows they might have avoided admitting to what some readers might view as risky behavior — a possibility that rings true based on observed behavior.
This embarrassment also popped up when students described how they had secured vaccine appointments as childcare providers or other “loopholes.” They feared readers would think they “cheated the system,” even though their actions fell squarely within the legal guidelines.
Not all students, however, have opted to seek out vaccine appointments.
Sophomore Miriam Sirota said that she has not “discussed it much” with her parents, but that she probably wouldn’t receive the vaccine regardless because of what she views as safety risks.
Josh Asherian, a junior, hesitantly said that he would “probably” get vaccinated if he could so that he could “hang out” with his friends. However, his parents are “skeptical right now” about future undiscovered side effects, so he has abstained for now.
As more and more students achieve full immunity — two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, according to school policy — AJA COVID-19 restrictions have begun to slightly ease up. For example, once 50% of the senior class reached that vaccination benchmark, which occurred on April 20, seniors were permitted to eat indoors while social distancing. High School Team Leader Ms. Franeen Sarif called the ability to eat indoors a “senior privilege” and has not indicated the same privilege will be afforded to the junior class, who similarly met that benchmark.
Some students wish to loosen the restrictions and “return to normal” more rapidly and drastically, especially as their time in high school comes to an end.
“I think when we get a majority of the juniors and seniors vaccinated,” Doni said, “we should definitely loosen up on the rules and try to send school back to normal a little bit for the last couple of weeks.”