Essay: My family’s vaccinations gave me newfound hope

As more students return to campus for the spring, the combination of vaccines and warmer weather offer hope that, after a year of quarantines and lockdowns, the COVID-19 pandemic is finally subsiding. As of writing this, the District registered its lowest number of cases in more than two months. The low case count follows the trend seen throughout the United States, with cases falling to their lowest level since mid-November and – fingers crossed – continuing to drop.

The falling numbers may seem abstract, but they paint a very real picture of the effects of even limited vaccinations and herd immunity. The idea of something positive occurring after the nightmare of the past year is a jarring juxtaposition.

After tension headaches and stress-filled days, both my parents and grandparents have been vaccinated. It is difficult to understate the sense of relief I feel knowing that they have at least partial immunity now, with near-total immunity just weeks away. With them practically in the clear, for the first time in a year, I feel cautiously optimistic about the future.

Without going into too much detail, between their respective ages and health issues, I was terrified by the thought that one of my older family members would contract the coronavirus. My anxiety rose and ebbed with cases in Texas, Massachusetts and Florida, the states where my family members reside. This fear affected my academics, my social relationships and everything in between.

For the first time in my life, I was on track to fail a class last spring. Having my time abroad cut short didn’t help. But the omnipresent fear that followed me at the start of the pandemic – the worrying about the health of my parents, of my elderly grandmothers and even of my asthmatic sister – paralyzed me. It felt trivial to focus on course readings when the life of my close family was potentially at risk. I ultimately dropped the course before it went on my transcript. It seems I was not the only student struggling under the weight of a deadly disease sweeping the globe, as the Chilean university offered a late drop for all students before the end of the semester.

But finally, once my family members got vaccinated, I was able to take a deep breath as a weight was lifted from my chest. Not having to worry that my parents will die from a trip to the grocery store is a huge burden off my shoulders. Now, the only people I have to worry about dying or contracting the virus are my friends with pre-existing health issues. What a relief! None of my friends nor I are vaccinated, so I feel the need to remain vigilant to protect against the virus by hand-washing, mask-wearing and social distancing.

I know the next few weeks and months will present challenges, both anticipated and unanticipated. The country is suffering from more than 3,000 deaths a day. At that rate, the United States will surpass 500,000 total deaths in less than three weeks. This virus isn’t going anywhere, and, though vaccines will help, there will be another wave of cases come the spring. Still, I cannot quite shake this budding sense of hope.

We must hold onto this hope of vaccinations, even if only I feel it right now. It is something that we should all see as a light at the end of the tunnel. We must recognize the case count and rising death toll, but we have a reason to feel at least a bit hopeful about the coming months.

Matthew Zachary, a senior majoring in Latin American studies, is a columnist.

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