When You Aren’t Old Enough for a Vaccine: An Alabama Sixth Grader on COVID-19

Students enter the classroom in Godley, Texas, on August 5. Godley is a town of approximately 1,000 residents about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The school district is among the first to open in Texas for the fall term. Photo: AP Photo/ LM Otero
Students enter the classroom in Godley, Texas, on August 5. Godley is a town of approximately 1,000 residents about 30 miles southwest of Fort Worth. The school district is among the first to open in Texas for the fall term. Photo: AP Photo/ LM Otero

This article was written before FDA authorization of the COVID-19 vaccine for children under the age of 12.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been by far the most distressing experience of my life. We learned to live wearing masks and only hang out with our friends outside. Over the past eighteen months, COVID has impacted my family: my mom has only allowed me to go to a store on rare occasions, and we’ve rarely eaten indoors at restaurants. 

We’ve been cautious, but my family got COVID, It was around September 2nd when I started feeling bad. After a little while, my dad lost his smell and test, and had a slight cough. If we had not taken my brothers to get tested, you would have never known they had it. My mom didn’t get COVID when the rest of us did. 

Last year, depending on local COVID case numbers, I had both in person and virtual school. Doing a significant amount of online learning was hard, and I did not learn as much as I wished I would have learned in 5th grade. With the introduction of vaccines, I hoped for a more normal school year this year. That hasn’t happened, and it’s why I’ll get the vaccine as soon as I’m old enough.

When the Delta variant struck, only about a third of Alabamians were completely vaccinated, the lowest rate in the country. Our local Board of Education, thankfully, opted to require masks at the start of the school year. However, a large number of children at my school did not wear the right masks, nor did they wear them properly. 

I never have felt uncomfortable in class but have wanted people to try and be more safe, by maybe putting their mask on or not running around the room. Face shields, mouth shields, and mesh masks are worn by students, and when they did have a proper mask, it was often around their chin. There was very little enforcement of appropriate mask wearing and usage at my school, and our school system didn’t make it mandatory for people who had close contact with an infected person to stay home from school. 

As a result of our district’s refusal to implement and enforce public health recommendations, I contracted COVID at school after only three weeks of classes. When I was at home, I felt a little frustrated because I didn’t feel like doing work, and my teachers don’t do most of our assignments  online. 

Some of my symptoms were severe, while others were mild. I would get a headache every now and then and those were always severe. Every night, I’d get chills and want to wrap myself in a pile of blankets. I felt weak, as if I couldn’t move whenever I did something other than lie in my bed. Early on, I had a low-grade fever, but on day four, it spiked to 103.0+ and stayed there unless I had medicine. My fever, I believe, was the main source of my discomfort. I also began to develop pneumonia, but thankfully, we caught it early and began to treat it. People believe COVID does not affect children, but I disagree. It impacted me physically, academically, and emotionally, too. 

When I asked my friends about their experience at school, my friend Carolina Martins, 11, told me that when “we had to wear masks it was hard to recognize your friends.” Chloe Stewert, 12, says that “if you spent a day at our school you would realize that no one is socially distant. And on the bus especially no one is wearing masks.” 

One of the hardest things about this pandemic has been trying to grow and create new friendships. I had a couple of close friends in my bubble, but it was hard to make new friends because we could not really hang out, since I didn’t know if other families were as safe as mine. It’s the same at school: I know some people in my school are likely vaccinated, but we know there have been breakthrough cases, so I wish people would continue to wear a mask to protect others and slow the spread.

Due to a decrease in the number of cases in our school system over the last month, our district has decided that masks are now optional. I’m one of the few people in the school who is still wearing a mask. Some people will carry a mask with them but rarely put it on. I dislike masks as much as my classmates, but I will continue to wear a mask to protect my classmates. 

I am not 12-years-old yet, but when I am, I intend to get the vaccine. Since I had COVID and hopefully have natural immunity and will have immunity from the vaccine, I am hoping I will be safe for a long time. 

Many students in my class have stated that they do not want to get the vaccine. I know it’s their choice, but I wish more people would get vaccinated to protect themselves from bad disease and help hit herd immunity. As the Delta variant declines and vaccines are approved for children, I am hopeful life can begin to get back to normal.

Taylor Tomlin is a sixth grader at Bumpus Middle in Hoover, Alabama. This is her first published piece.

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