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Observer Editorial: Get vaccinated, stay educated

| Friday, March 26, 2021

On March 1, 2020, as the coronavirus began its spread across Italy, Saint Mary’s College students studying abroad in Rome spent their last day in the city before evacuating. On March 11, Holy Cross College paused all on-campus activity for the following month. On March 18, the University of Notre Dame suspended all in-person classes for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. 

March 2021 has been a month of reminiscing for many. We’ve all probably experienced the earth-shattering “one year ago today” revelation at least once in the last few weeks. As the somber anniversaries of fateful cancellations come and go — and as the pandemic enters its second year in the United States — it’s difficult not to look back at what once was.

But the tri-campus community seems to have something to look forward to. On Tuesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb announced the state’s plan to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to all Indiana residents 16 years and older — including out-of-state college students — beginning March 31. And yesterday, Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame announced the opening of vaccination centers for students, faculty and staff on their respective campuses in the coming months.

As we prepare for mass vaccination, here are some things to keep in mind.

If you’re eligible for the vaccine, get the vaccine

The past year seems to have made us all highly cognizant of scarcity. Cleaning product aisles were left barren as the first wave of cases hit the country. Hospitals around the world struggled to accommodate patients due to limited numbers of beds and ventilators. In the first few days, the Center for Disease Control initially even advised Americans not to buy face masks in light of hospitals’ dwindling supplies.

But the vaccine distribution plan in the United States is far from a state of scarcity. In fact, the country might have to deal with excess, with some models projecting a surplus of 600 million doses in the second half of 2021.

So, if you’re eligible for the vaccine — or soon will be — don’t use self-sacrificial sentiment as an excuse to not get vaccinated. If you fit the eligibility criteria, there is a dose with your name on it. Get the vaccine for the sake of the communities and the people you care about.

If you’re unsure about the vaccine, read up on research and ethics

Much of the skepticism surrounding the COVID-19 vaccine stems from its condensed development timeline: The full course of production — usually spanning years — was achieved in only about a year’s time.

In fact, according to scientific journal Nature, “For years, researchers had been paying attention to related coronaviruses, which cause SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), and some had been working on new kinds of vaccine — an effort that has now paid off spectacularly.”

Furthermore, despite its seemingly quick manufacturing process, countless experts have come to a consensus on the COVID-19 vaccine: It’s safe and effective. While some minor side effects are common in the short term — fevers, muscle aches, fatigue and headaches — they are ultimately a sign of success, signaling that your immune system is responding to the shot and preparing to fight the virus upon future exposure.

However, some people might oppose receiving a vaccine on ethical or religious grounds. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine manufacturing process required the use of abortion-derived cell cultures, which prompted backlash from some Catholic bishops. The University expects to administer this vaccine to nearly 6,000 Indiana residents at its March 26-27 vaccination site. Pfizer and Moderna used abortion-derived cells as well, but only to test their vaccines.

If this raises moral concerns, we urge you to look to the words of Catholic Church: While they have expressed a preference for the latter vaccines, the Vatican and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have also both released statements affirming the role of vaccinations — including the Johnson & Johnson one — in ensuring the common good.

If you’re not yet eligible for the vaccine, wait until you are

Despite the vaccine’s rapid rollout and ever-expanding eligibility requirements, impatience abounds — some Hoosiers have lied about their age or occupation in order to receive a vaccine dose before their designated slot. 

More than a year into the pandemic, the temptation to cut the line might be strong. With less than a week for all students to be eligible for the vaccine March 31, our tri-campus community is closer than ever to mass vaccination. Hopefully, that fact can give us the patience we need as we continue down the home stretch.

Even after you’re vaccinated, continue to be conscientious

Unfortunately, receiving a dose of the vaccine doesn’t immediately grant us immunity. The CDC notes that someone isn’t considered “fully vaccinated” until two weeks after their final dose. 

But even after that exciting date comes and goes for each of us, we must continue to be vigilant in protecting our entire community from the virus. In the face of insufficient evidence on whether or not vaccinated people can transmit the virus, we must assume they can — and that means continuing to wear masks, maintain social distance and abide by the guidelines medical experts and school administrators provide for us. 

Besides sharing news of the expansion of vaccine eligibility in Indiana, Gov. Holcomb also announced an end to the state-wide mask mandate on April 6, leaving the final decision about mask requirements up to local governments. No matter your vaccination status, we urge you to continue to wear a mask in public to protect the larger community.

We know that won’t be easy. The thought of a post-COVID world is undeniably appealing, but our current reality is much more nuanced. As Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN back in November, the vaccine is “not going to be a light switch” back to pre-pandemic times. We’ve kept up with ever-changing restrictions and guidelines for more than a year now, and we can’t allow ourselves to falter in the last few months, when normalcy is within reach.

And, as always, keep up with The Observer to receive updated coverage on the tri-campus’ plan to provide students and the South Bend community with vaccines.

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