By JONAH LOSSIAH
ONE FEATHER STAFF
I understand the trepidation. I really do.
If you asked me a few weeks ago whether I’d take the vaccine, I would probably say ‘yes, but not right now’. Well, we sit maybe just a few weeks away from our first public vaccinations, and I’ve had a bit on an epiphany.
I’ll admit I’ve had the benefit of thinking this through for a little longer than some. I am a member of the EBCI (Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians) Joint Information Center, the committee formed solely for the dissemination of information regarding COVID-19. With that, a major part of my job is having a feel for the community. The Cherokee One Feather prides itself for its connection to the people of our Boundary. We also wish to offer the voice of the people. Doing so allows for a level of empathy for each reader.
By talking with members of the public as well as polling many of our readers, I have started to see a significant trend. The majority of folks do not trust this vaccine right now. Plenty of people have said they want to step up to the plate and get our lives back to normal as soon as possible. Others have been vehemently against any sort of vaccine. There is also a large contingent that sits where I did not too long ago; those who wish to wait and see.
As of Friday, Dec. 11, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine received FDA approval for emergency use, moving past the final major hurdle before nationwide distribution. That is the vaccine that the EBCI will be receiving.
The worry that has rushed to the forefront of my mind is that we simply will not have enough volunteers to make a difference. For the vaccine to offer legitimate change in COVID-19 numbers a significant percentage of us on the Boundary need to take it. That is true for every community. The longer the process of mass vaccination takes, the longer the virus will continue to ravage this country.
For me, I wish to volunteer to take the vaccine as a measure to help my community.
I can’t pretend to know a tremendous amount about the Pfizer vaccine. But calculating the value of the vaccine allows for many of those unknowns to be calmed in my mind.
Pfizer is currently stating that the vaccine has a two-dose 95 percent efficacy rate. Do I wish for a miracle cure with no side effects? Well sure. However, we must be realistic. 95 percent is significantly better than the current state of affairs. North Carolina has consistently had 4,000+ new daily cases since we reached December, and daily highs coming seemingly every other day. We are slipping and have been for some time. This vaccine will help us get things under control.
The Pfizer vaccine is the same that has been administered in England, starting from the University of Coventry. It was made in collaboration with the German drug maker BioNTech. We are collecting data each day. The situation will continue to adapt, but progress is being made at a rapid pace.
Part of the uproar I’ve already seen is that there have been at least two allergic reactions with the vaccinations in England. I understand that immediately seems to be a red flag, but it wasn’t that much of a surprise to those administering the vaccines or the people that had the reactions. As reported by the Associated Press, ‘The two people who reported reactions were NHS staff members who had a history of significant allergies and carried adrenaline shots. Both had serious reactions but recovered after treatment, the NHS said.’
This is a risk for anyone who has had major issues with allergies, and that’s true for any vaccine. There are very similar warnings for each year’s flu shot and other vaccines that are given to the public. It is something that deserves heavy monitoring but should not be the greatest concern to those that do not have significant allergies.
I believe one of the more demoralizing aspects of the vaccine is that many of us thought it would be the true end to the pandemic, and that we could rush back to our pack restaurants and concerts. Regardless of how many people get the shot early, we will all need to wear masks, distance, and look after our community. This is something I was emotionally prepared for, but it is not doubt disappointing.
At the end of the day, none of these actions of prevention are about the individual. That has been the most aggravating facet of this pandemic for me – the selfish attitude of so many. The idea that ‘I don’t have to wear a mask or stay put because it’s my own health I’m risking’.
That’s just objectively a lie.
I was taught as a child to care for my family, friends, and neighbors. A virus is not something that affects one person. If one individual contracts the virus and upholds a cavalier mentally they are putting everyone they see and each of their families at risk.
The thing that has me petrified since March is the fragility of our culture. I’m a young man. In all likelihood if I were to contract COVID-19 I would be fine. But I work in Cherokee. My father is one of our people that is responsible for keeping our language alive. That means he has contact with many elders and speakers. If a death were to occur in my family or to one of my elders because of my irresponsible action I would never forgive myself.
Cherokee is one of the most connected communities there is. We also protect our elders at all costs. Why is the pandemic different? It’s not something I can answer, but it is something I have kept in my mind at every step.
This is why I wish to take the vaccine. The same reason I never enter a public space without my mask and have been scared to see even my closest friends. I just want to take care of my community.
I’m not saying it is wrong to be skeptical. After all, our people have not had a pristine history with the United States government. But this isn’t about that, is it? It’s not about politics either. It never was, and frankly it’s disgusting that it was almost immediately made so.
I am scared. You are scared. We are living through an unprecedented time, and more than anything we want to get back to a sense of normalcy. The only thing I ask is that each one of us takes a deep breath and do what we think is best for our community.