DeMarco's Mark: Anti-vaccine/mask community must stop denying science to help end this pandemic.

By Emma DeMarco


Photo by Chadwick Cole

I lay in the grass under a tombstone, imitating the death of yet another anti-vaxxer. The message engraved on the tombstone on the shirt, “I Did My Own Research”, repeats those who deny science and to ignore the advice of medical experts to do their own “Google” searches. This mentality is detrimental to our community as it causes the continuous spread of misinformation and repeatedly calls for the end of the very practices that can end this pandemic.

By Emma DeMarco

Michigan recently became the number COVID hot spot in the nation. Just like COVID, hate against COVID protections has contaminated our district and even its board meetings.

When speaking to the board at one of these meetings, anti-vaxxer Christina Odell expressed her disdain for mandatory masking procedures in school.

“I'm really surprised that you are carrying out this hoax. You know this is from Whitmer. You know this is from the health department. You know this is from Oakland County. You know this is from Biden You know this is from Barack and Kamala and Washington D.C.. You know this is from the CDC and Fauci. You know this is a hoax. I don’t wanna be compromised because of someone else's fear. This is manufactured,” Odell said.

Having to wear a mask won't gravely compromise you; unless you consider a thin, weightless, breathable piece of fabric in front of your face, a “very serious issue that affects your health”.

However, what would likely compromise you is the lethal, extremely contagious, painful virus that is currently spreading around our world.

Comments, such as Odell’s, can be incredibly harmful to those who have suffered the very real effects of COVID-19. Our current recorded number of ­­­­COVID-19 deaths is now over 5.07 million, meaning over 5 million families grieved the loss of at least one loved one.

Science teacher Cynthia Sherman tragically lost five close people to COVID-19 and understands the hardships and severity of the virus better than most people. Two of the people Sherman lost were her brother’s godmother and father.

“That was sad because it was both of them. I couldn’t even imagine; I thought about the kids; that was terrible. Here, my family was attending a Zoom funeral. Meanwhile, it felt like Sherman believes that it’s possible that the people who believe this is a hoax, perhaps, have just not lost anyone to the virus yet.

To explore this idea, I took a poll of 108 Groves and Seaholm students on their beliefs and experiences with the virus. The poll revealed that 100% of the participants who said they believed this was a hoax, as well as 100% of the participants who would not refer to it as a deadly virus, had never lost anyone to COVID, or knew anybody who suffered a very severe case. This data displays that many of those who have not experienced the traumatic effects of COVID, simply think that nobody else has.

This could not be further from the truth. Another speaker at the October board meeting claimed that because she and her family had COVID twice and were still alive, and because of that, COVID could not possibly be a deadly illness. Many people have fed into this lie, and have lost their life. I hope as our numbers continue to rise, more do not make the same mistake.

These tragic stories are preventable, as long as those who can get vaccinated, go get vaccinated. It’s a common belief among those who don’t support the vaccine that the shot is harmful, and is “giving you COVID”. This claim is false. Before coming to Groves to teach, Sherman worked in an epidemiology lab, learning about epidemics and how they spread.

“The vaccine doesn't make any permanent alterations of a cell's DNA. People say ‘Oh but you’re giving us COVID’, but they are actually giving you the spike protein, so the COVID virus is not able to replicate and make more of itself. So, I mean, it's just giving your body awareness of what it looks like on a cellular level so it's able to attack it sooner,” Sherman said.

Without this vaccine, we are entirely vulnerable to this deadly illness. Tons of anti-vaxxers are doing “their own research” on friend’s social media accounts who simply agree this is a government conspiracy, and are concluding that this vaccine is harmful and does not work. However, because fake news about COVID is crawling all over the internet, their own research

(meaning their quick Google search or that best friend’s post), is likely false. There is misinformation regarding the COVID vaccine spewing everywhere. Some even this shot contains a tracker, or some lethal chemical, or that it’s just a placebo.

To get credible data about COVID, I spoke to the Chief of Emergency Medicine at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, Dr. Christopher Colwell. Colwell is also a professor and vice chair in the department of emergency medicine at UCSF School of Medicine. He has fought COVID firsthand in his own ER and has been treating infected patients since the very beginning of the pandemic. Colwell believes the vaccine is the most essential piece in ridding our nation of this virus.

“We've had to admit a few vaccinated people to the hospital, but they've done very well, and they typically have been older with underlying medical conditions who would have done terribly prior to the vaccine. I can say very confidently that the vaccine has never hurt when it comes to contracting COVID,” Colwell said.

I contracted this illness, and can confidently say it was the worst I’ve ever felt; I can’t remember the last time I was that sick. No other illness has ever caused me to lose complete taste and smell like COVID did. Right when I began feeling symptoms, I knew something was very wrong. My throat burned constantly. My mind and body experienced constant exhaustion and body aches that spread all over consumed me. Ironically, I went and received my first dose of the vaccine, whilst having COVID (unknowingly). I tested positive at my first softball practice the next day, and then tested positive again after receiving a PCR test later that day. Experiencing this illness firsthand was something quite shocking and frightening for me. Luckily, my symptoms didn’t last too long.

Despite my asthma, I experienced no respiratory symptoms. Instead, I dealt with a raw sore throat that burned like hell at all times, with no relief. My body ached everywhere; my legs and back were so sore the only comfortable position was to be totally horizontal. I suffered headaches that felt more like migraines, and every time I stood up I felt like I was weightlessly floating in the clouds, too dizzy to walk. I woke up each morning by vomiting into the toilet. My nausea gave me no appetite, so I was constantly throwing up acidic bile that stung my entire esophagus and mouth. Most of all, I was insanely tired. My constant fatigue kept me in bed most of the time, and I spent my days going in and out of sleep. I am a healthy, young athlete, and this is what COVID to me. Sleep was my only relief from unbearable pain at all times.

Imagine If I were older? If I had underlying health conditions? Imagine if I thought this was all a hoax? I might have ended up on a ventilator or dead.

The COVID antibodies remained in my system until about July, but they eventually wore off, and I haven’t even caught a cold. This is likely because I’ve gotten my vaccine, which has let me feel safe when I go out. I no longer worry about having to deal with that depressing, painful experience ever again.

Many are convinced that this vaccine does not work. While it is true that you can still contract COVID with the vaccine, vaccinated people will experience much milder cases of the disease and are not nearly as likely to die. The vaccine is one of the only things that can protect you from losing your life to this illness.

Another common belief is that masks don’t work. This has led to a great debate from parents and other community members at our own Birmingham board meetings about whether or not we should mandate masks in school.

Colwell believes masks are the second most important piece in preventing spread: the first being vaccinations, of course.

“Masks are the most effective thing we have to address air transmission of the virus. Of all the things we can do outside of vaccinations to protect ourselves, masks are the best. We’re also learning that better masks work better. A cloth over your face is probably better than nothing, but it's not gonna be anywhere near as effective as a surgical mask or particularly some of the better masks, like the N-95,” Colwell said.

Bottom line, masks are our last line of defense against the virus. It’s important to use effective masks, such as well-fitting, surgical masks because of their reliability. Hence, a gaiter is not going to do much to eliminate spread, but it is better than nothing. Tons of Birmingham parents choose to not believe this advice from medical professionals and are raging about having to wear masks at school. In her same speech at the board meeting, Odell expressed her anger on this issue.

“The teachers knew when they were taking teaching positions that children got sick. They had choices, right? But we had to pay them for this last year to stay home with all of their benefits because they're fearful that they might get a germ from a child. They knew that this is what the job held in store for them potentially. Their choice, I’m not sorry,” Odell said.

I was shocked to hear the round of applause that rang throughout this crowd after this statement. I am not a teacher, but I do think I speak for our staff when I say that having to be exposed to a deadly virus in a worldwide pandemic that killed millions of people, including some of their family and close friends, was not in the teacher handbook. Nobody was prepared for this. Our own government wasn’t even prepared for this. Our teachers, many of whom have lost people due to the pandemic, deserve to feel safe and secure in their schools. They are the backbone of our country. They are the people who educate and help raise our youth; they have the right to come into school without feeling that their lives are at risk.

Vaccines have been out for about a year now and are now completely free and accessible. Masks are available in just about every store, especially the very dependable and safe surgical masks.

Yet, Colwell and healthcare workers across the globe are still having to watch the painful death of unvaccinated citizens, knowing that their death could have been prevented if they had received a vaccine.

“Over this past year, these are now almost all preventable deaths,” Colwell said.

I find this to be the most heartbreaking aspect of this big debate. If all those unvaccinated who died had listened to medical experts, who devote their life to their practice, instead of listening to social media, they may be alive today.

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