To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
Last Tuesday, the Public Health Committee of the legislature began hearing 24 hours of virtual testimony “mostly from parents about their desire to avoid vaccinating their children while still being allowed to send them to school.” The issue was HB 6423, a bill that would eliminate religious exemptions for childhood vaccines.
The very next day, the Connecticut Education Association (CEA) released a television ad urging the state to “vaccinate educators now” if the state is serious about keeping schools open.
In short, one group wants to dodge vaccinations while the other clamors for them.
I understand we’re talking about two different vaccines for two different sets of people, making this a false equivalence of sorts. But there is a common thread here: science.
It just so happens my Media Literacy class is currently concluding a unit called “Finding Truth in a Digital World.” In it, we study misinformation and conspiracy theories, both more prevalent than ever thanks to the internet and social media. Among the tools we use to expose false information is science – specifically, the scientific method.
“One of the great things about science is that it’s an entire exercise in finding what is true,” says noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson in one video we watch. “[You start with] a hypothesis, you test it, I get a result, a rival of mine doublechecks it because they think I might be wrong. They perform an even better experiment than I did and they find out, ‘Hey, this experiment matches. Oh my gosh, we’re on to something here.’ And out of this arises a new emergent truth. It does it better than anything else we have ever come up with as human beings.”
Science, in other words, never stops seeking truth. Unfortunately, it takes time, a commodity quickly disappearing in this “Present Shock” age where “the priorities of this moment seem to be everything,” according to author Douglas Rushkoff.
Thankfully, childhood vaccines have had sufficient time to be studied, tested, restudied, and tested again to the point where measles were declared “eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000. Misinformation and fear mongering, however, have allowed measles to reemerge in the United States.
This same anti-science campaign has already begun with the COVID-19 vaccine, but most teachers know better. They trust science. They recognize that the vaccine has been rigorously tested – even as it’s been fast-tracked – and it has followed the “same layers of review and testing as other vaccines.” Teachers are more than ready to roll up their sleeves so they can work with children in their classrooms safely and with peace of mind.
Curiously, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said last week, “I don’t believe [vaccinating teachers is] a prerequisite for reopening schools” so long as “proper masking and social distancing guidelines are followed.”
The most recent science, it seems, has indicated that schools can be reopened safely, given the proper safety guidelines, even without vaccinated teachers.
But the controversy surrounding the reopening of schools persists. One faction urges the immediate return of all students to the classroom while another is hesitant. Hasn’t science just settled this score?
Not exactly. Remember, the scientific process takes time. And with a novel virus, new information emerges almost daily. So while the science now supports mask wearing coupled with social distancing as sufficient safeguards, scientists continue to study new variants of the coronavirus that might change that protocol. To wit, just last week in Fairfield County, Connecticut’s first case of the South African variant was discovered.
Furthermore, the science behind the CDC’s return-to-school regimen has identified “more than nine out of 10 U.S. K-12 students [who] are living in COVID-19 ‘red zones,’ or areas … determined to be ‘high transmission’.” Consequently, “The CDC advises that schools in the red zone meet stricter reopening standards, including a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning, or reduced attendance for elementary school students.”
This debate over the reopening of schools is tempered in Connecticut, as only 6.1% of the state’s public schools remain remote, while 56.3% are fully open and 37.6% provide a mix of online and in-person lessons. Most Connecticut teachers, in other words, are instructing their students in person and in school buildings, trusting and employing the appropriate mitigation strategies.
That’s not to say teachers don’t want the vaccine. Most I know are raring to go, even as they are ineligible, currently stuck with other frontline workers in phase 1B who hope to get vaccinated in March but still don’t know for sure. Compare that to their counterparts in 24 other states who are already getting shots.
Connecticut teachers, simply, should be vaccinated ASAP. But even as they wait for their shots, the fact remains: Teachers are nothing like the many parents who prefer that their children forgo the measles vaccine. To teachers, science matters.
Barth Keck is in his 30th year as an English teacher and in his 15th year as assistant football coach at Haddam-Killingworth High School in Higganum where he teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language and Composition. Email Barth here.
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