Now eligible for the vaccine, students eager for sense of normalcy

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Members of the Palo Alto Unified School District community between the ages of 16 and 50 are finally being given the opportunity to get vaccinated, to the relief of many weary of the pandemic. 

Cars line up at a drive-through vaccination site in a San Jose parking garage on April 16 after Santa Clara County residents 16 and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine the day before. Many students from Palo Alto High School are getting vaccinated as soon as possible, including junior Arundhati Parikh. Although Parikh said she was initially nervous about the pain from the vaccine, the vaccination experience was in reality quite effective and easy. “I heard that the needle was really large, but it was actually just a tiny needle which I barely felt prick my skin,” Parikh stated in a message to The Paly Voice. “It was a drive-through vaccination, meaning I didn’t even have to get out of the car. I just stuck my arm out of the window and that was it.” Photo: Arohi Bhattacharya

The expanded eligibility of the vaccine in Santa Clara County is prompting many students to get vaccinated as soon as possible, including junior Natalie Nguyen. Nguyen said she plans to get vaccinated once she can schedule an appointment as she feels it is a step towards herd immunity, and recommends that anyone else eligible to also get vaccinated.

“I chose to get vaccinated because I have always felt positively about vaccinations, as they are science-backed and necessary for our health and herd immunity,” Ngyuen wrote in a message to The Paly Voice. “The sooner everyone gets the vaccine, the better, but it’s also imperative that the vaccines are ready and tested. When more people are vaccinated, there is less risk associated with returning to campus.”

In mid-March, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the state would expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to anyone 16 or older beginning April 15. District board member Jennifer DiBrienza said she is satisfied with the decision to expand vaccine eligibility but believes that the policy will likely have little effect on the board’s plans for school reopening in the next seven weeks.

“I’m glad the county has opened up vaccinations to 16+ and hope many in our community take advantage of it,” DiBrienza stated in an email to The Paly Voice. “I don’t believe that will change anything as far as a return to campus for these last seven weeks of school as only [high schools] are impacted, and half of those students are still too young to receive it.”

DiBrienza said she predicts a return to complete in-person instruction when classes return next fall.

“The biggest focus for staff right now is working to ensure a complete return to campus for all students in August,” DiBrienza said. “Assuming people continue to be vaccinated and case rates continue to decline, there is no reason why we can’t have a full return for the 2021-22 school year.”

Junior Akhil Joondeph is a recipient of the Pfizer vaccine, which is the only CDC-approved vaccine for ages 16 and up. He said that he felt compelled to get the vaccine once eligible for the safety of himself and his family members, who all qualified for the vaccine before the April 15 date.

“I chose to get vaccinated because as soon as I knew I was eligible, I felt like it was my responsibility to take advantage of that to help the population stay safe,” Joondeph said. “As more people get vaccinated, the transmission rate overall lowers and society becomes safer for everyone. Once a majority of students are vaccinated, more hands-on instruction will be possible, which would be wonderful.”

Junior Arundhati Parikh received her first dose of the vaccine Wednesday, which she said she hopes will ensure not only her physical safety but also her comfort interacting with those she cares about.

“I think a lot of people feel safer with the vaccine even though its effectiveness on such a large scale is yet to be determined, so I do think more people might return to in-person school,” Parikh stated in a message to The Paly Voice. “I know some of my friends with at-risk relatives were waiting to be vaccinated before coming back to school, so I imagine there are others in a similar position.”

Parikh said she is impressed with California’s handling of vaccine distribution and administration, especially to eligible high school students.

“In an ideal world, vaccines would be available to everyone immediately after they were approved, but I think the state of California is doing a really good job with the rollout,” Parikh stated. “Honestly, I didn’t expect to be eligible this soon.”