Once you’ve attended a few high school graduation ceremonies — shout out to the teachers, school administrators and other community newspaper folks out there — the speeches and cheers and caps flying in the air may start to blend together in your memory.
But there are some moments you know will stand out.
Last Saturday’s speech by Rebecca Kullberg, president of Hayes Freedom High School’s associated student body, was one such moment.
Kullberg started her speech with an undeniable truth: the class of 2021 has been asked to weather more than most teenagers should ever have to.
“Far too often we watched in real time as bad thing after bad thing happened,” Kullberg said. “We’ve constantly seen death, injustice, violence and the promise of an uncertain future.”
The past year had taken a toll on our young people, Kullberg told the adults assembled at Doc Harris Stadium for the graduation ceremony.
“Some of us struggled with online school, others with mental health issues with everything going on and some of us because of the death of a loved one because of COVID,” the teen said. “It has been hard.”
Kullberg ended her speech with a quote from The Chicks’ song, “Young Man” — “After the storm
There’s nothing you can’t navigate. Point to the truth. You’ll see it’s the only way.”
She and her peers had weathered a storm far greater than they could have ever imagined, Kullberg noted, and they were still weathering it.
“We’ve seen adults show us what to do and what not to do,” she said. “We’ve learned from the mistakes of others … We are strong, resilient, empathic, have a strong sense of justice, are strong-willed, brave, intelligent, diverse and so many other amazing things. We know we are strong together and can achieve anything we set our minds to.”
Everything Kullberg said is so true — this current crop of high school graduates is tough, resilient and coming into the world with a much stronger sense of justice than many generations that have come before them.
They will be able to weather other storms in front of them, but as adults, shouldn’t we do our absolute best to make sure these young people don’t keep getting slammed by hurricane after hurricane?
One of the best ways we can help our young people come through a year of turmoil is by ensuring that their immediate futures are free of the superstorm that is COVID-19.
And the absolute best way we can do that is by getting vaccinated and vaccinating our children ages 12 and older against the COVID-19 disease.
Though things may appear to be “back to normal” in much of the Camas-Washougal area when it comes to the pandemic, there are dark thunderclouds on the horizon and with just 50 percent of Clark County residents age 16 and older fully vaccinated for COVID-19, we are definitely not yet out of this storm’s path.
Public health experts are now warning that the Delta variant, which has devastated India, spread rapidly throughout the United Kingdom and now makes up 6 to 10 percent of all COVID-19 cases in the U.S., “may hit us pretty hard this fall.”
“You will need to be fully vaccinated in order to stave off this variant,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chair of the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told PBS reporters this week. “When this Delta variant does hit us, we’re going to see more people who are unvaccinated get infected, (and) they are probably going to have worse outcomes.”
A National Geographic report published this week also warns the Delta variant could wreak havoc on the U.S.
“If we don’t take Delta seriously, ‘there will be a further wave in the U.S. We can already see the fall in cases has plateaued,’” Ravindra Gupta, a professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, told National Geographic reporters.
What’s more, scientists say the more variants like Delta have a chance to spread in unvaccinated populations, “the more these viruses mutate and eventually pick up mutations that allow for more efficient antibody escape,” which could “in theory, make the current vaccines even less effective against these variants.”
Already, we have seen that the COVID-19 vaccines are less effective when confronted with variants like Delta.
So what will it take to prevent the Delta variant — which is known to be extremely contagious and possibly more deadly — from causing another superstorm in the fall, just as our young people are heading back to school?
Most agree that we need to do two things: vaccinate as many people as possible against the virus and not lift safety restrictions that are, again, proven to prevent the virus from spreading, until at least 70 percent of the eligible population has been inoculated.
“With just 44 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated, the majority of people are still vulnerable,” the National Geographic article notes. “Relaxing public health restrictions and declaring victory prematurely could provide an opportunity for the Delta variant to surge – particularly in the fall.”
As of this week, just under 51 percent of Clark County residents 16 and older had been fully vaccinated, with 58.5 percent having at least one dose. This is less than the statewide average of 67.2 percent with at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. And we know demand for the vaccine is beginning to wane, here and across the country, with thousands of vaccine doses going to waste.
Vaccinating a greater percentage of the population will help us finally get through this pandemic and prevent more restrictions and illness in the future. We can see this playing out in states with the highest levels of COVID-19 vaccinations, which are now seeing coronavirus cases drop fast, while states like Alabama, Texas, Wyoming and Utah — which have lower vaccination rates — are beginning to see COVID-19 cases climb again.
We also know that vaccinating against COVID-19 has become a partisan issue — likely thanks to a disinformation campaign targeting mostly conservative voters — with recent data showing 29 percent of Republicans say they will not get vaccinated (compared to 5 percent of Democrats) and 13 percent of Republicans saying they are on the fence (compared to 6 percent of Democrats).
If we really want to help our young people thrive and ensure their post-high school future will not be one plagued by a pandemic we have the tools to control, we must come together as one community and find a way around this partisan divide.
One way to do this is to learn more about the misinformation surrounding the COVID-19 vaccines and seek out health experts who can help answer your vaccine-related questions.
Following are some great sources to get you started or to share with loved ones, neighbors or friends who may be hesitating to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and do their part to protect the community and our young people from another round of restrictions, illness and death in the fall:
- Just 12 people are behind most vaccine hoaxes on social media, research shows
- Meet the media startups making big money on vaccine conspiracies
- Naturopathic physicians discuss COVID-19 vaccines and answer questions
- We’re better off with mRNA vaccines: an immunologist explains how these new (but not experimental) vaccines work
- A conservative-learning journalism group fact checks COVID-19 vaccine misinformation
- Oregon Health Authority: COVID-19 can affect anyone
- Information about fetal cells and vaccines