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student vaccines

From left to right: Frank Mathews, Corinne Behrens and Isabella Zimmerman. These three Centereach High School seniors chose to get vaccinated this month and are encouraging their friends and families to do the same. Photo by Julianne Mosher

It’s a month since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that all New Yorkers ages 16 and over would be eligible for vaccinations as from April 6.

Three seniors at Centereach High School took advantage of the vaccine earlier this month and wanted to share why they chose to do it and why they feel their friends should, too.

Corinne Behrens, 17, got her first dose of the Pfizer shot on April 21, said she chose to get the vaccine because she battled COVID-19 last year and didn’t want to experience that pain again. 

“My dad works in a hospital, so he got COVID last year right at the beginning, and then my brother and I both got it,” she said. “I actually had the worst symptoms of my family. For a solid month, I was out of it.”

Behrens said that after experiencing the horrors of the illness firsthand, living with a frontline worker, she knows the shot will bring things back to normal.

“I definitely have a couple of friends who are anti-mask wearers, and also who don’t think the vaccine is going to do anything,” she said. “They find it all pointless, and that COVID is just like a laughing matter, a big joke.”

But she hopes by sharing that she believes in the science, that others will “take it more seriously, especially definitely with the new variants.”

“We’re still finding out new things about it,” Behrens added. “And it’s definitely something that everyone should take seriously, because people have it and people are still dying.”

She said she’s looking forward to when there are less restrictions for her day-to-day life and for the time where she can sit around a campfire with her friends, again. She hopes to pick up where 2020 left off.

“Everything that I had planned out already wasn’t going to happen,” Behrens said. She missed out on visiting colleges, taking her SATs and fundraising with her school clubs for trips and events that would have normally taken place if it weren’t for the virus.

“Definitely try to get the vaccine if you can,” she advised. “Because then we’re all spending less time in this situation, and we all just want to get out of it and go back to our normal lives without a mask.”

Frank Mathews, 18, said that getting the vaccine was a no-brainer, opting to get it even earlier than his peers because he works at a supermarket. Mathews said his household has several high-risk individuals who he wanted to keep safe as he worked in the public throughout the pandemic. 

When he got his Pfizer shots in March, he was just sore at first but with the second dose he felt ill. In the end, he felt the day in bed was better than contracting coronavirus.

“It’s better to be prepared for it, rather than to give up,” he said. “Especially because we’re all young, high school kids. So, I think it’s better for us to get it now.”

Mathews said he knows a lot of people who are against the vaccine and wearing masks, and he understands their concerns. 

The senior who plans on attending Suffolk County Community College said he’s looking forward to going camping again, and having a sense of normalcy. He said his 16-year-old brother and older brother decided to get their vaccines, too. This extra line of protection in his home gives him hope that life can pick up where it left off. 

“We all have to act together on this,” he said. “We all have to keep our masks up, you know, wearing them properly, too. All these things are all factors to contribute and everything we all have to do together, and that’s the only way we can get through this properly.”

Isabella Zimmerman, 18, who committed to Utica College to study physical therapy, was unsure about getting the vaccine at first. 

“I was on the fence just because obviously I want my life back,” she said. “I want to be able to do things and not worry. But at the same time, it’s so early that we don’t know what’s going to happen in the future.”

After weighing the pros and the cons, Zimmerman decided to get her Pfizer shot the first week of April.

“I feel like, at the same time, if they’re making it so accessible it can’t be that dangerous,” she said.

Her parents both got the shot, she said, and gave her the option to choose for herself. 

“But I feel we don’t have much of a decision anymore because we’re at the point where we want to be young, and live our lives and travel still,” she said. “And all those things pretty much require a vaccine.”

She said at this point it was easier to get the vaccine instead of constantly worrying what she was allowed and not allowed to do. 

Zimmerman said she felt discouraged this year because she missed out on the highlights of her junior and senior years.

“I feel not enough people are acknowledging it, how hard it is on us,” she said. “It’s so hard to keep coming in and paying attention when everything is virtual or there’s nothing fun to do after school.”

By getting her vaccine, she said she’s looking forward to working her summer jobs hopefully without a mask, and getting back to her life prepandemic. 

“Going into college, it’d be nice to have some kind of group gatherings and parties to meet people,” she said. “It’s going to be hard going to school, especially if you’re going away … you don’t know anyone and there are no group gatherings. No one wants to become friends over Zoom.”

On April 6, Stony Brook University administered 1,400 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to students living on campus. The mass vaccination day fell on the first day that New York granted eligibility for those 16 of age and older. 

“I’m so thrilled that the eligibility came much earlier than we ever expected,” said Rick Gatteau, vice president for Student Affairs at SBU and dean of students.

The administration sent out an email to residents last Thursday with a link to sign up. Within two hours it was filled, and there is currently a waitlist of 500 students waiting for the next session.

The event took place in the newly constructed Student Union building, where students arrived at their assigned time and were guided through the process by dozens of volunteers. They will return for their second dose on May 4. 

“I felt compelled to get the vaccine”, said Victor Shin, a sophomore chemistry major. “I’m hoping that the campus will open up very soon and we can head back toward in-person learning.”

By the end of the day, 30% of on campus residents received a vaccine. With the semester wrapping up in a few weeks, the administration is hoping to vaccinate all students who are interested so that the second dose falls before the last day of classes May 4. 

“The fact that we’ve had such a huge turnout is reflective of our students’ interest in getting the vaccine,” Gatteau said. “We’re a big STEM school focused on research, and students know the value of the science and research that went into it, which is similar to their own career pursuits.” 

Residents were selected first due to their risk of transmission by living in close quarters in dorms. The next group to be offered a spot will be commuter students who travel to campus and those who are fully remote but live on Long Island. 

“Even if it was never required, I think we’d get to our herd immunity number just based on interest,” Gatteau said. 

The decision of whether or not vaccination will be required of students returning to campus in the fall is still up for deliberation by the State University of New York administration. This week they announced that in the fall, 80% of classes will be held in person.