You’ve heard it from family and friends. You may even believe it yourself.
“This COVID virus doesn’t affect me.”
“God and the universe protects me and I’m healthy.”
“I am not worried so I won’t take the vaccine.”
“My kids are safe from the virus, so they don’t need the vaccine either.”
The truth of the matter is those feelings simply aren’t backed up by science. The most current data tells us that the virus is surging once again across the country and here in Colorado as it mutates, with more than 80 percent of new infections being driven by the incredibly contagious Delta variant. And our kids aren’t immune to its impact. The numbers don’t lie.
COVID infections among children are growing as Delta spreads. And, although rare, those of us who are already vaccinated can unknowingly carry COVID home. While we also know from the data that vaccines are preventing the worst impacts of the virus, including hospitalization and death, many of us also live with younger family members who cannot yet be vaccinated or those with compromised immune systems and therefore rely on conferred protection through our being vaccinated and wearing masks indoors.
What does all this mean?
The answer is simple. If we want our schools to stay open for in-person learning, we’ve got to follow the science. We have to get fully vaccinated against COVID if we aren’t already and we need to start wearing masks in indoor settings where we know the virus is most easily transmitted. We’ve got to stop arguing with the data and start taking the action we know brings the virus under better control.
We have to couple this action with a renewed commitment to getting more information into our communities who have suffered the worst from the pandemic and also have the greatest reasons to be hesitant of the vaccine. The harsh reality of this virus is that whatever small side effects might come from being vaccinated pale in comparison to the realities of contracting COVID and ending up in the hospital or worse.
Our school districts are beginning to make the tough but necessary choices around masking and vaccines. Our state’s two largest school districts, Denver and Jefferson counties, are either requiring vaccinations for all staff or requiring weekly testing and masking for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status. These guidelines are necessary and other school districts need to follow suit.
We saw the mass inequities and challenges that families across our state faced during the lockdowns. Communities struggling with financial issues saw their kids locked out of online education. Our best estimates are that our children lost up to one year of education due to virtual schooling. That is compounded by the fact that kids of color also suffered the greatest losses of parents and guardians to COVID-related deaths.
Our rural children suffered as well. With long distances and internet connectivity issues, these children were often left on their own with parents struggling to homeschool. Or their districts made herculean efforts to serve them, sending teachers out on busses to neighborhoods to attempt outdoor, in-person learning. None of this is the education we want for our kids.
The reality is that we have the power to change this situation for them. But for a host of reasons, we aren’t.
Instead, we are lost in a world of social media misinformation that is magnified to intentionally create vaccine hesitancy. Or we don’t want to take the second vaccine dose because we fear it could mean missing work and losing our job. Or our distrust of the vaccine, government, the medical establishment, pharmaceutical companies, or others keeps us from getting the accurate answers we need and in turn, we’re dissuaded from receiving the life-saving vaccine.
We cannot leave the actions to others. We must take control of our future. The virus has shown no patience for our polarized world and is constantly working to mutate and return again — and perhaps one day could even evade the vaccines altogether.
I have seen the negative psychological impact of COVID-19 in my family members and colleagues that work in health care. If we don’t act now on behalf of our children and our communities, we will increase the chances of having another year of poor quality education, increased behavioral or health needs, and financial and social challenges.
We can and must do better than that.
Cristina Bejanaro is the director of engagement at the Colorado Association of School-Based Health Care. She is a bilingual and bicultural Latina, a mother of an immunosuppressed child in public school, and a member of the Colorado Vaccine Equity Taskforce, a statewide organization that works to ensure all Coloradans have the vaccine information and access they need.