Pfizer frenzy: Students feel relief, guilt, stress after vaccine

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Alina Susani

Students have endured long waits, miles of driving and hectic sign-ups to get vaccinated.

Scrolling through Instagram stories, one image has become increasingly common — the vaccine card. But before COVID-19 vaccines became available to all Chicago residents age 16 and older on April 12, some U-High students desperately entered vaccine lotteries, looked for extra doses at pharmacies and ventured to Indiana and rural Illinois for a vaccination.

Despite eagerly searching for vaccine doses, upon actually receiving their first doses, students felt combinations of excitement and guilt, and now they say they feel relief.

In early March senior Sana Shahul began to see on social media that her peers were getting vaccinated. She started looking for appointments online.

“I first tried to look the same way my peers were getting vaccinated, going far away, trying to get extra doses,” Sana said. “And then, coincidentally, I got a mass text by one of my friends that was like, ‘Go to Gary (Indiana) right now to get your vaccine if you’re under 18.’”

According to Sana, once she filled out the medical and eligibility forms with her parents, the process was easy. On April 7, Sana drove the half hour across the state line to Gary, Indiana, and found the mass vaccination site operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency almost empty.

Ardith Huhner, a junior, didn’t hear about how her peers were getting vaccinated until it became a topic in class.

“I didn’t have social media before, so I didn’t realize people were getting it until people started talking about it in class,” Ardith said. “Tons of people were getting it, and it was like, ‘Oh how can I get it, too?’”

Once Ardith got on social media, she saw an abundance of information about how students could get vaccinated.

“I was only seeing registration information on social media,” Ardith said. “Nothing was on the news like that. There weren’t adults broadcasting where to find it.”

Senior Orla Malloy got her vaccination appointment through a lottery of extra vaccinations at the University of Chicago. For Orla, the fact that it was a vaccine that would otherwise go unused made her feel much less guilty about getting vaccinated before her group became eligible.

I got it through the university lottery system with people turning it down, which I guess is, like, fine by me, but it was nice to know I was getting an extra vaccine. Like, I wasn’t taking it from someone else.”

— Orla Molloy

“I got it through the university lottery system with people turning it down, which I guess is, like, fine by me, but it was nice to know I was getting an extra vaccine. Like, I wasn’t taking it from someone else.”

Similarly, junior Will Trone wanted to make sure he was getting an extra vaccine, rather than taking it from someone who was already eligible, because he wasn’t yet.

“Personally, a little bit selfishly, I wanted to get vaccinated so I could see my friends again and just feel safe in general, and know I’m not going to give it to my parents,” Will said. “I definitely felt guilty, a little bit, because I know the distributions of vaccines is a huge equity issue that is affecting people of color mainly.”

Since getting their first doses, many students have characterized themselves as being much more comfortable in public. Both Orla and Will had decided to remain remote earlier in the spring, but after receiving their first vaccine doses, both opted into hybrid learning .

Orla said, “I just feel more comfortable going out. My parents and family are all vaccinated.”

Despite being vaccinated, Orla still plans social distance and be careful in public.

“I’m still going to wear a mask, because it’s selfish not to,” Orla said. “Even if it’s harder to spread the virus, there’s still that sense of social responsibility. But anyway, school just felt safer now that I’m vaccinated.”

Izzy Caffarelli, a junior who has been going to school in person since March, said distancing from friends at school in the hallways and between classes is challenging, so for her, being even partially vaccinated has reduced a lot of stress in that area.

“[Distancing] is difficult regardless of if you have the vaccine or not — to stay apart from your friends when you’re talking to them,” Izzy said. “Personally, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about it, so for me the idea of being vaccinated is really exciting and really comforting.”

Since Sana got her first dose, she’s been more comfortable doing high risk activities she hasn’t done since before the pandemic.

“I’m trying not to let up my guard as much. I’ve eaten indoors for the first time. I know I’m not fully vaccinated, but I think the other part of me is like, this is the biggest step toward normalcy ever,” Sana said. “Now it’s all about holding down the fort and getting ready to travel.”

What ninth graders think about vaccines:

Myles Cobb, ninth grader: “Well it’s difficult knowing that I’m just one year too young to get ‘vaxxed.’ Knowing that leads to so many things is hard, but I guess just being patient is the thing I need to do right now.”

Sasha Duda, ninth grader: “Well yeah, I’m 15 so I can’t get ‘vaxxed’ yet, but I think that it’s really good that other people are getting ‘vaxxed.’ It’s been a whole year since we’ve had some sort of normalcy in the world, so people getting ‘vaxxed’ is a great step in the right direction. I mean, it does kinda suck that us freshmen can’t get ‘vaxxed’ yet, but there have been so many reports about it getting much closer to our turn, which I think is really awesome.”

Chloe Hurst, ninth grader: “I think that the more people that get vaccinated the better — I know that there are people that are more high risk than me that should definitely get vaccinated before me. My family is vaccinated, so it makes me feel a lot better, but when I am able to get vaccinated I will.”

Mason List, ninth grader: “So I’m currently 15, which means I just barely don’t qualify for the vaccine. It’s pretty frustrating to see people just barely older than me being able to get the vaccine and return a little bit more to their regular lives while I’m stuck without it. I have heard, however, that Pfizer is working toward being able to get 12-15 year olds vaccinated, which is really exciting news.”

Ella Cohen Richie, ninth grader: “It’s a little disappointing, but it’s OK since we should be able to get ours by this summer. I think that it will be less stressful since I know that I have it, but I’m probably gonna maintain at least a good distance from people with and without the vaccine.”