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Editor’s note: Alirio Estevez is an ESL teacher at Siler City Elementary School. He received his first dose of the Moderna vaccine last Friday with the Chatham County Public Health Department in Pittsboro.
As he talked, I could picture my father struggling to supply oxygen to his lungs. He could hardly articulate two syllables together. I was worried. My father was trying to let me know he had COVID.
I felt impotent. There was nothing I could do to help him. He lives 2,000 miles away in a city in Colombia. Neither my siblings nor I could travel since every airport in Colombia was closed to the world. And even if I could, what would I do? I have no medical training and my presence would only create more inconveniences.
COVID had become personal. It became even more personal when last December a beloved friend of mine passed away due to this pandemic. My father survived. She did not.
As I was getting ready to get the first dose of the Moderna COVID vaccine last Friday, I thought of my friend and my father. If this marvel of modern science and technology had been available three months ago, she would have taken it and would be here with us and with her students. My father wouldn’t have had to suffer alone in his house surrounded just by the TV and newspapers.
I felt guilty because I would have the privilege to be inoculated against this deadly virus while they didn’t. But also I felt excited because it would mean that normalcy was getting closer, so our students, my students, would go back to our schools every weekday and my own children wouldn’t have to worry about my health. It would also give me the opportunity to show the community how safe COVID vaccines are.
Sadly, misinformation has been prevalent in these pandemic times. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, WhatsApp, among others, have amplified falsehoods and lies that have decreased trust in science. For instance, my mother, who is 67 and had a part of her lung removed two years ago, was reluctant to take any vaccine since her friends and relatives have told her that it was unsafe, that it caused other diseases.
Several of my students have told me that their parents will not get the vaccine because nobody knows what’s in it. I’ve heard reports that some people believe that the vaccines will make people infertile. Even in California a group of anti-vaxxers disrupted a vaccination event claiming a number of dubious reasons. These falsehoods can lead to grave consequences in our communities, especially among minorities.
African Americans and Latinos have been disproportionately hurt by COVID-19. A high percentage have been ill, hospitalized and succumbed to this illness due to the lack of health insurance, low income, high-risk jobs and structural racism. We must do everything we can to reach out to them and provide them with the vaccines that will allow them to go back to work, study and live safely.
As a Latino, I know that our community trusts teachers quite a lot. If they see that we teachers take the shot with confidence, they will feel safe. They will trust the vaccine and science. They will be more willing to receive the vaccine when it is their turn. They will leave their misgivings aside. That is what was on my mind when I took the shot. I wanted to show our families that the vaccines are safe and that they will lead us to a sense of normalcy.
I rolled up my sleeve for my students, for our families and for our community.