After nearly a year of isolation — time away from loved ones, online learning rather than in-person schooling and no sports team practices — the Academy for Technology and the Classics sophomore hopes the vaccine, which began rolling out last month, will provide a new beginning that prioritizes better protection for her community.
“It is very important that people like myself decide to vaccinate in the hopes of not only protecting ourselves, but also the people we know and love,” Rittmeyer wrote in an email.
It’s no secret that teens across New Mexico have experienced life-changing and historic events the past year. Competing in track meets, going to amusement parks and just spending time with groups of friends have all been put aside for the safety of peers, parents, teachers and coaches. For Rittmeyer and other teens, the sacrifices are an effort to save lives.
Those who are at higher risk of contracting the coronavirus “should be the first priority” in getting the vaccine, Rittmeyer wrote, and “those like myself, who don’t have any medical conditions and are young, should wait until it is their time.”
Robert Benon, the medical director at Presbyterian Medical Services and a provider for the Teen Health Center at Capital High School and Santa Fe High School, says it’s likely that high-risk people, “who aren’t as immune, will get the vaccine first.” These include those with compromised immune systems and the elderly.
In New Mexico, front-line health care workers and nursing home residents and staff have been among the first groups to get the vaccine. The state Department of Health’s latest plan calls for making the vaccine available to the general public in the summer.
“I wanna get the vaccine, but sadly I’m too young so I won’t be able to, but if I could I would,” Brody Silver, a freshman at New Mexico School for the Arts, wrote in an email. He said people who have an opportunity to be vaccinated consider doing so.
Benon said he believes that even if people can’t be sure of possible long-term side effects, the vaccine is a solution that would allowing people a chance to transition back into their usual lifestyle sooner rather than later.
“If people don’t get vaccinated, it will take way longer for things to go back to normal,” he said.
Xitlally Estrada, a senior at the Academy for Technology and the Classics, said she believes the vaccine was produced too quickly but remains hopeful.
“It’s important for everyone to get the vaccine if we want this situation to get better, but I just think things were a bit rushed considering how much time other vaccines have taken to be made,” she wrote in an email.
Estrada said she is still unsure about getting the vaccine, but she wants everyone around her to be safe, so she is curious to see what is going to happen when it is distributed to people around New Mexico.
“I just want the vaccine to be effective. I think that’s what most of us want is a vaccine that’s going to work and help fix the situation that we’re in right now,” she said.
Estrada said it is important eligible teens consider getting the vaccine and think about who they’re helping.
“Teens might not get as sick as other people, but they can still spread the virus around very quickly,” she wrote.
A big thing that teens hope for is a chance to see friends or extended family again and to begin to return to their regular activities.
Rittmeyer said she hopes to use the time once the pandemic starts to die off to make a difference in the world and cherish every moment of it, which she said she didn’t do that before the pandemic.
“The vaccine can be an opportunity to spark change, use your voice for a purpose, work harder, be kinder, and make the most of the time we have left on this Earth,” she wrote.
As for school sports, Benon said they still need to be approved by the New Mexico Activities Association, which has yet to make a final decision on the rest of this year. He also said there are a lot of things that need to be thought out before they can happen again, even with vaccine distribution underway.
“The vaccine needs to be distributed to young people [under age 16] before activities can fully start up again,” Benon said.
This also goes for in-person school. Benon said it’s too soon to know what the next school year will look like, but he knows precautions — such as social distancing and wearing masks — will be taken.
“I wouldn’t want to guess it would be safe [to go back to school], just hope,” he said. “I also doubt it’s going to change all the way back to normal.”
Rittmeyer said teens who are able to get the vaccine should.
“As time progresses, we will be returning to school, sports, clubs, and other activities, which ultimately puts ourselves at risk,” she wrote. “It is important to hinder the progression of the virus, and one day, hope to get every individual vaccinated.”
While many hope the vaccine will work, there are some denying it will work and people making the choice to not get it. Benon suggested there is a lot of misinformation being out there.
“My number one thing is to ask people to be careful where they gather information [about health],” Benon said.
He said the internet has a lot of misinformation, and teens should consider where they are doing their research.
“Go to a website that you know is going to be reliable,” Benon said.
He provided a few websites — medlineplus.gov and CDC.gov — that he knows provide true information, and cited WebMD.com as one that’s not as reliable.
Rittmeyer’s uncle is a front-line health care worker who received his COVID-19 vaccine last month. She said he works with scientists, nurses and doctors around the world.
“While many people fear the side effects or risks of the vaccine, we all viewed the opportunity as a privilege. He has confirmed that the vaccine is safe and effective,” she wrote.
Rittmeyer is thankful the pandemic has taught her a few things about life. She no longer wants to take advantage of the smaller, yet enjoyable things that happen every day.
“I want to take my time of reflection to let go of the past, change my future and use the vaccine as an opportunity to restart.” Full credits Santa Fe New Mexican.

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