Vaccines provide hope

Laren Reesman, Staff writer

In many ways, the COVID-19 vaccine allowed life to return to a modified normal. The most vulnerable groups—the elderly and immunocompromised—are now largely protected from hospitalization or death from COVID-19.

We can visit our grandparents and sick relatives; we can fly nationally and abroad again; we can give one another high fives, hugs and most importantly full-faced smiles.

Even with cases rising, hospitalizations and deaths among the vaccinated are low because they are guarded from the worst effects of COVID-19.

Judy Smith, Ph.D., director of the Health and Counseling Centers, reminds us that “even though we wish to be done with COVID-19, it is not yet done with us.”

Through the pandemic, Smith experienced the grief of students and faculty who lost family members, who struggled in quarantine and even dealt with some who had more severe symptoms. She still has family in places with high case rates who describe current situations where people have died because of overwhelmed hospitals.

Vaccinations increased in Erie and nationally after the FDA fully approved the Pfizer vaccine in late August and as Delta variant cases rose.

Smith said “continued education and dialogue remain important” if we are to truly overcome the pandemic.

Negative impacts of the virus are already weak among college-age students and younger, but the vaccine appears to have lowered those risks even further.

Despite this uplifting news, there are concerns within the Mercyhurst community because positive cases were found in both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals. Smith said this is why the Mercyhurst community follows a layered approach that is likely to lead to gradually reduced restrictions.

Discrepancies in protocol for vaccinated vs. unvaccinated individuals on campus is another factor to consider. A vaccinated person labeled a close contact is simply instructed to wear a mask at all times around other people and proceed with more caution while they await test results or through the 14 days following exposure. Even though they can still transmit the virus, they are not required to quarantine.

If an individual is named a close contact but unvaccinated, Mercyhurst mandates a quarantine for 14 days and does not permit the option to submit a negative test and get out early.

Beyond Mercyhurst’s policies, a future that requires proof of vaccination to get into concerts, movies and even the workplace looms closer each day. Other universities are much stricter with their mandates and have threatened to remove unvaccinated students from attending school.

Yet, Smith said, no vaccine guarantees you are “bullet proof ” and can resume all activities as normal.

People have followed CDC guidelines for over a year, and the push to get vaccinated is nothing new. However, institutional and governmental requirements are mounting anger and frustration within communities nationwide.

“Situations where fear, lack of knowledge or people’s difficulty recognizing how they affect the welfare of others leaves me discouraged at times, yet the positives always prevail before long,” Smith said.

Positivity is a key takeaway for Smith as she feels fortunate that Erie’s health care system was never hit as hard as other areas.

The real question is how we move through the remainder of this pandemic. Free access to an overall reliable vaccine is only a piece of that dilemma; another is what decisions will be made by individuals going forward.