- January 20, 2021
Ashley Zeitz, a senior at Braden River High School, is planning to study abroad in Valencia, Spain as part of an international program when she starts college at Florida State University in the fall.
So when she heard she was eligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine at the age of 17, she jumped at the opportunity.
Zeitz was able to get the Pfizer vaccine from a Walgreens on Manatee Avenue April 14.
“For me to be eligible to get the vaccine means I’m willing to take a huge step into ending this pandemic,” Zeitz said. “I know there’s some suspicion with this vaccine because both vaccines only had nine months on trial and people are unsure about long term effects … but it was a risk I was willing to take in order to end the pandemic quicker, have a little change in my life and go out and see the world.”
Starting April 5, anyone 18 years old and older became eligible to receive any COVID-19 vaccine, and people who are at least 16 years old could receive the Pfizer vaccine.
Although the lowered age requirement means more sophomores, juniors and seniors at local high schools could get vaccinated, some have mixed opinions on the matter.
Melissa Parker, a spokesperson for the School District of Manatee County, said discussions with MCR Health and other community organizations of possibly providing vaccination opportunities for students are ongoing, but no plans have been made as of April 13.
Alexis McClintock, a senior at Braden River High School, said she gets updates on the number of deaths due to COVID-19 from the Florida Department of Health on a daily basis.
Decreasing deaths and knowing vaccines were developed on a rushed timeline are causing her to be hesitant about getting vaccinated.
“I’m waiting until they have more information and more testing on them to get vaccinated,” McClintock said. “You don’t really know what’s in it and how that’s going to affect somebody 10 years down the road or even five years down the road.”
Lilly Lynch, a sophomore at Lakewood Ranch High School, said she wouldn’t mind getting vaccinated, but she’s not in a rush.
“I haven’t gotten COVID-19 yet, and I’m not too worried about being sick if I do get it,” Lynch said.
Liam Tvenstrup, a junior at Braden River High School, said he would like to get the vaccine at some point but said he isn’t in a situation where he urgently needs to get vaccinated.
“I’ve already had COVID-19, so I feel I’ve built up some immunity to the virus or at least certain strains of the virus, so I don’t feel as threatened in that way,” Tvenstrup said.
Tvenstrup said COVID-19 not having as big of an impact on teenagers and not having anyone at home who is immunocompromised or at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 have also played a role in his decision to hold off on getting vaccinated.
Ethan Spasciani, a senior at Lakewood Ranch High School, has already received his first dose of a vaccine. He wanted to get vaccinated to get a step closer to “normal.”
“I’ve been hanging out with my friends and stuff like that more recently, and I don’t have any issues with the vaccine, and I’ve been waiting to get the vaccine, so I thought it was just a better situation for my friend group and myself and my family around me as well.”
Although Zeitz and Spasciani are getting vaccinated, both seniors said they are going to continue to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines by wearing masks, practicing social distancing and following any other health and safety recommendations.
“It feels like I have a little more freedom,” Spasciani said. “I’m still going to take precautions and wear my mask and social distance and everything, but it does feel relieving to know I’m taking a step towards what our old normality was.”
Some seniors are hoping as more people get vaccinated, the School District of Manatee County will work with LECOM Park, where graduation will take place this year, to lessen the restrictions on how many people can attend the ceremonies.
As of April 13, Parker, said graduation tickets are still limited to two per graduate, but district officials will revisit circumstances as graduation approaches.
Going into next year, Lynch said she doesn’t think a COVID-19 vaccination should be required to return to school, and she hopes school is back to normal so high schools can have homecoming, prom and other activities while not wearing masks.
“The majority of students who have had COVID-19 have gotten over it easily and without major problems,” Lynch said. “Teenagers aren’t at a lot of risk, so I hope things get back to normal.”