There’s something about turning 15 that seems to transform many teenagers into know-it-alls that really don’t know anywhere near as much as they should. And I can’t lie, I was absolutely one of those teens.
It was the very last day of my freshman year, and I was feeling rebellious. While my classmates may have found satisfaction in simply skipping these last hours inside our high school, I decided to do something different. I was going to wear my prized Buffalo Bills hat. Inside the building.
This was 1991, and yes the Bills had lost their first Super Bowl at this point, but it was only because of a missed Scott Norwood field goal and no one could even begin to imagine the years of disappointment that were still ahead.
Being the last day, most teachers saw me in the hallways and didn’t think much of it. A couple even poked fun at my team, especially since this was Pittsburgh Steelers territory after all.
One teacher, however, wasn’t willing to look the other way.
“Take off your hat,” she said to me as I walked by. Deep into my defiance, I rudely (and regrettably) ignored her.
“Mike,” she called out again. “Take off your hat!”
I wasn’t going to give in. Not this day. The other 179 days of school were all about conformity. But this was Day 180. I had a right to be a malcontent on this particular day. Right?
No. And I learned that lesson the hard way with detention at the beginning of my sophomore year in the fall. I knew it was coming, and spent most of my summer developing a defense that I was sure would not only save me from punishment, but open the doors for everyone to wear hats in classes.
I would be hailed a hero. No longer would the boys in school have to wake up five minutes earlier to brush their hair. It was a new age, and I would be the one to usher it in.
And who was hurt by me wearing a hat? How was it different than wearing a T-shirt? Or stone-washed jeans. Or a varsity jacket.
Except it was harmful. It’s distracting. It’s discourteous. And most important of all, it was the rules. This one teacher was not out to kill the fun. She was doing her job. And she was ensuring that even on this wasted last day, each and every one of us understood the importance of listening, and respecting the rules — even the simple rules of high school.
Maybe that’s why I don’t get this whole backlash to wearing masks in the classroom. Or better yet, getting every kid 12 and older vaccinated.
Many parents are doing the right thing and bringing their child in for their shots. But then there are others — a minority, but large enough to matter — who think science is nonsense, and that no one will tell them what needs to be injected into the bodies of their children.
In fact, one group of parents has gone as far as buying billboards around Albany proclaiming “my child, my choice,” and to “stop vaccine mandates.”
These parents admit to not being doctors or scientists or even researchers. But somehow they know better than doctors or scientists or even researchers. To them, the vaccine is still in “clinical trials” — which must be the largest clinical trial of all time, considering more than 350 million doses have already been administered in the United States alone.
And then there’s the dreaded “many people are sick and dying from the vaccine,” but of course, the media — usually accused of finding the negative in everything — is choosing to cover all that up because, I don’t know, we love syringes that much?
I really try hard to respect opinions, especially those quite different from mine. But this anti-vaccine mentality, to me, is no different than QAnon or the government turning Area 51 into a soundstage to fake the moon landing.
This mentality is dangerous. Any person making a decision for themselves or their children not to get the vaccine is not just making this decision for themselves, but for all of us.
It’s like driving down the Deegan. Sure, it’s my choice to go 100 mph. I’m the one that’s going to get the ticket. But I’m also making choices for everyone else around me with my reckless behavior. It’s easy to lose control, or not anticipate what another car is going to do. And in a blink of an eye, all of us are trapped in twisted metal, with our chances of survival fleeting if not already gone.
I truly can’t believe that it’s been more than a year since I shared my own COVID-19 experience in this very spot. At the time, I was part of a pretty unique group, yet so lucky that I recovered when so many good and decent people did not.
Now it’s a story that far too many of us have shared — and not all of them come with happy endings. Yet, time hasn’t allowed me to forget a single moment of being sick. Of refusing to fall asleep, afraid I wouldn’t wake up again.
And that was the original coronavirus, which has actually been all but eradicated. You’d think that’s good news, but it’s not. We didn’t destroy the original strain with vaccines and herd immunity — we disposed of that original virus to make room for a new alpha: the delta variant.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want that. And the more the virus spreads and infects people, not only does it mean hospitals are filling up and more people are dying, but it also increases the chance of an even worse mutation — including a kind that might be resistant to the vaccine and the antibodies we depend on.
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz has been a defender of vaccines even before anyone knew the word “coronavirus,” and he’s been a true advocate of this vaccine.
So have others, including Mayor de Blasio, our state Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders, and even some of our local businesses and institutions. The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, for example, is requiring anyone who lives at, works or volunteers at the facility to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1.
The vaccination rates are already above 80 percent at the Hebrew Home — better than the rest of New York, and even the country. But we can’t stop there.
No, the vaccine was not developed too quickly. The technology behind it has been studied and practiced for many years.
No, you cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine. No, your DNA will not be altered. No, you won’t be implanted with a microchip.
Vaccines aren’t snake oil. Vaccines are not miracles. Vaccines are a product of science. A product that works.
How do I know? Because I’ve never had polio. I’ve never had the measles. I’ve never had the mumps. I never contracted smallpox.
All of us want to ditch our masks and social distancing. But as long as too many choose to wear their hat in class and ignore that voice of reason, then we’re still miles from the finish line.
The author is editor of The Riverdale Press.