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18 months and one day

Exactly 18 months ago, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. But exactly 18 months and a day ago, life was normal. We were enjoying sporting events and concerts, and the anticipation of the prom buzzed through our local high schools. What began as a two-week “break” from the stress of work and classes quickly became 18 months of wishing for that one extra day, reminiscing about the last day before the world shut down and we were trapped in a future chapter of the history books. Unless one of us was deemed an essential worker – with all the stress and personal risks those important roles entailed – our lives were sparsely occupied with the most mundane of events, and we were left to feel helpless in the surrounding chaos.

But just as our lives ground to a halt 18 months ago, change has again come quickly, and this time for the better. Unlike 18 months ago, we no longer need to feel helpless, because there is a way in which every eligible person can help. By getting vaccinated for COVID-19, we are not only protecting ourselves but those around us; by getting vaccinated each of us is – quite literally – helping to save lives.

These vaccines are safe and effective and represent the only solution to this chronic problem. But unless all of us who are eligible get vaccinated, nothing will change. People will continue to get sick, the lasting repercussions of which are not fully known.

And even for those who previously contracted COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies show that the vaccine provides more than twice the protection against reinfection.

Beyond our moral obligation to assist in stemming the tide of the pandemic, there is the attractive thought of our young lives being free to live again. In school, we can have pep rallies, concerts, musicals and dances. We can live out the experiences showcased in every high school rom-com or ’90s movie. Without a higher vaccination rate, however, those events will not be able to occur and, frankly, those of us who remain unvaccinated will not really be able to complain. Because the fact remains that we are not entitled to a typical high school experience – because we are not living in typical times.

This is not an issue to just leave to “the adults.” COVID-19 not only claimed a great many lives but also claimed a lot of innocence in our world. There is no more waiting to grow up. Now is the time for each of us to do our part for the world, to become the solution. We have the power to make a difference for ourselves and for one another.

The COVID-19 vaccines are not experimental or something to be feared; according to the CDC, “COVID-19 vaccines have received and continue to undergo the most intensive safety monitoring in U.S. history.” The two ibuprofen we take at the first sign of a headache is not being so continuously monitored as the vaccines are. Why fear the latter when there is not a second’s hesitation for the former? Why not instead trust the facts, trust the very same science that we have relied upon in the past?

We are no longer resigned to wish for that one extra day from 18 months ago, because each safe and effective vaccine that is administered to one of us puts all of us one step closer to achieving that extra day as our every day.

Teagan Marty is a senior at Williamsport Area High School and an active member in the community working with organizations such as Let’s End COVID!, a group of concerned people in North Central PA working to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic through education, outreach and mitigation.

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