[Column] ‘At The End of the Storm, There’s a Golden Sky’

By: Michael Mandarino, Follow South Jersey Managing Editor

Stockton University nursing students who supported the COVID-19 vaccination efforts at Atlantic City’s mega site. Photo: Stockton University

SOUTH JERSEY — For me, it’s very easy to look back on the past 14 months as one big storm.

Don’t get me wrong: A lot of good things have happened to me since the COVID-19 pandemic began. I got my college degree and began my career in journalism (albeit virtually). I’ve made new friends and stayed connected with old ones, and I’ve also grown and matured more than perhaps any other 14-month stretch of time in my life.

I know that there are millions of people around the globe who have had far worse experiences over the last year than myself – including those who have lost loved ones to the worst global pandemic we’ve seen in a century. There are even some who, though they may not have gotten infected with the coronavirus, lost their lives due to the mental and/or physical toll that the pandemic took on them. Our society — really, our world — has drastically changed because of the ongoing pandemic, but there is a clear end in sight thanks to the current vaccine models.

But when I look back on the last 14 months, it’s hard not to think about the bad parts. The tragic scope of the COVID-19 pandemic, the isolation, the loneliness, and the doom-scrolling through social media and news outlets have all taken a toll on me and, even through the good, made the past 14 months feel like one big storm.

To borrow a lyric from “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” a showtune that was originally written in the 1940s and popularized in the 1960s: “At the end of a storm, there’s a golden sky.”

Today, I’m going to reach my personal end of the storm at a Walgreens a couple hours away from my childhood home. I am receiving my second dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine model today. In two weeks’ time, public health officials will officially classify me as fully inoculated against the worst global pandemic humanity has seen in 100 years.

Before I continue with the “me”-centered part of this column, I feel obligated to take a moment to thank those around the world who have worked tirelessly to create, perfect, and release the COVID-19 vaccine models that are being administered around the world today.

The global effort to create these vaccines was like no other in human history, as the world’s medical geniuses came together and managed to formulate multiple effective vaccines that, at least in the United States, have decisively slowed the spread of COVID-19. Those who contributed (and are still contributing) to the production, distribution, and administration of these vaccines are heroes in every sense of the term. The front-line health care workers who have treated the sick are also heroes, and there’s no way that I can properly thank all of these people for their efforts.

I may never meet some of these people (except for the Walgreens employees who administered my COVID-19 vaccine doses, of course), but their contributions to our lives are invaluable. I haven’t felt as hopeful and optimistic about the future as I do today in a very long time.

When I become fully inoculated, I’ll be able to safely go into work and sit at my desk every day – like a “normal” adult. I’ll be able to safely hang out with my college buddies and do stupid things with them again. I’ll be able to safely go to bars, watch live sports, enjoy concerts, and do all of the “normal” things that enrich my life without the worst pandemic in a century hovering above me like a storm.

As the global effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic has ramped up, many people in New Jersey and beyond have become hesitant to get inoculated.

Vaccine hesitancy is very prominent in the United States – especially after the mid-April pause of Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine model due to rare, but risky side effects. As I wrote in a previous column prior to my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine model, you should feel skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine — at least initially. I certainly was when the global effort to vaccinate people began with doctors and the elderly in December 2020.

However, my skepticism went away when I started listening to people who are much smarter than me. I, as a 23-year-old who runs a news website for a living, am certainly not an expert in infectious diseases, vaccines, or global pandemics. There’s a good chance that you aren’t, either. I am not telling you to go get vaccinated, either, because I’m not qualified to give you medical advice.

I am, however, qualified to show you information and facts from experts in infectious diseases, vaccines, and global pandemics. I’m also qualified to interpret that information and those facts as a resounding endorsement of the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine models that are currently available to all New Jersey residents aged 16 and older.

Data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on April 28 found that the COVID-19 vaccines led to a 94% reduction in the risk of being hospitalized among adults aged 65 and older. Previously-released data from Pfizer shows that its COVID-19 vaccines are, at the very least, 95.3% effective in preventing serious COVID-19 related illness for up to six months. Moderna’s vaccine, which causes mild-to-moderate side effects in most people, is 94.1% effective in preventing any level of COVID-19 illness.

These aren’t the only sets of data that show how effective the COVID-19 vaccines are. There are plenty of other studies that show how well they protect senior citizens, who were prioritized as part of the global vaccination effort because they’re among the most susceptible to severe illness caused by COVID-19, and the population as a whole.

Again, I am not qualified to give you medical advice. But I am qualified to summarize what doctors and medical experts are saying about the COVID-19 vaccines: If you get the COVID-19 vaccine, there’s a really, really, really good chance that you won’t get sick — and getting the vaccine is the easiest way to get your life back to normal.

Although I’ve certainly had good days over the last 14 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has, generally speaking, sucked. I know it’s been far worse for millions of others throughout the world, but no matter how bad the last year-plus has been for you, there is an end in sight.

The COVID-19 vaccines represent more than just a modern medical achievement. They represent hope for a better future. They represent a way for us as a society to put COVID-19 in the rear-view mirror, move on, and get back to normal.

They represent the golden sky that comes at the end of every storm.

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