My Experience Growing Up with Anti-Vaxxers & How I’m Dealing During Covid

By Katie Coughlin

I feel like I can’t win. I wore a mask throughout the pandemic in 2020 then received both Moderna shots in April and May 2021. After my full vaccination, removing my mask felt safe though at the risk of being called an anti-masker. Now I’ve put my mask back on per CDC guidelines only to hear, “So, what’s up with the mask? Are you not vaccinated?” I roll my eyes at their comments and occasional jeers. One of my friends even told me that someone asked her if I’m wearing a mask because I have COVID-19.

While everyone is no doubt dealing with so much frustration around the constant updates on masks and vaccines, as well as the uptick in misinformation about COVID vaccines, this is nothing new to me. In fact, I’ve been exposed to the whole anti-vaccination phenomenon for a while. 

The local high school in my hometown was very large and sometimes thought of by many as fairly chaotic. My father had briefly taught there. When I turned fourteen my parents found a way to send me to “non-traditional” boarding school in Massachusetts. The institution seemed to focus mostly on art classes and used somewhat “alternative” learning systems. (These alternate methods of learning were, for the most, part unbeknownst to my parents.) I still feel like I’m working to fill the gaps in my basic education

And most unfortunately, a decent portion of the students were unvaccinated.

As a fourteen year old from a fairly standard, large town in New Jersey and having only attended public schools, my new peers’ way of life felt foreign. I started hearing things like, “Vaccines cause Autism” (they don’t) and, “Vaccines were created by government scientists to wipe out minorities and those with disabilities” (they weren’t), amongst other claims that had been disproven for over a decade. This stuff sounded really scary. All I’d ever heard back home was if you were allergic to chicken feathers then you shouldn’t get a flu shot. But perhaps that too has changed.

“You don’t need vaccines,” a girl from my school said to me one day. “People in this country, especially people from the suburbs are just scared of dying.”

“Well, what if someone needs to provide for their family? If a vaccine can prevent them from dying then their family won’t suffer and live in poverty,” I responded to her.

She went quiet.

I’m also pretty sure this girl had never been exposed to any kind of poverty, let alone urban poverty. Personally, I had seen a very small amount in my hometown but most of the poverty that I knew of was from the neighboring town of Newark, NJ. 

Another story I heard about the vaccines was that they were meant to abuse infants. One student told me that the doctor snatches your baby away from you the moment it’s born to inoculate it. According to this person this creates a lifelong trauma in the child. The truth is that no doctor can inoculate any baby or infant without parental or legal guardian permission.

I’m not entirely sure why this demographic at my high school were so adamantly opposed to vaccines. Some of them would also just look at the first online source they would see about anti-vaccination and run with that. Most of my fellow students were raised atheist so there’s no way that the majority of them did this for religious reasons. It seems that a lot of their reasoning was based on lack of information juxtaposed with emotion. Given that we were at a school with little groundwork for fundamental learning (let alone knowledge about scientific and peer-reviewed research), it would be easy to assume that these people did not operate based on facts. 

Then the Swine Flu hit during my junior year of high school. H1N1. Almost everyone got sick except me. Why? I got the flu shot along with I would guess maybe 10 of the 90 other students there. A few of us even took a survey one year. It was a certain version of Which Would You Rather: Would you rather marry a Republican or someone without vaccines? Most preferred someone without vaccines. I said a Republican. But now it seems that a lot of Republicans are anti-vaxxers, so I guess in this apocalyptic situation I would’ve just died an old maid! 

Despite the mockery and sometimes hostility that I received in the early 2000s for my inoculations, it clearly paid off. At the time I didn’t understand and I still don’t understand why I was shamed for what was once standard medical practice. 

So now the rest of the country is experiencing this whole anti-vax phenomena at its worst. I get why people are scared. But really, they are just misinformed. We fear what we do not understand. What most people don’t know amongst the misinformation is that this vaccine is not actually that new. The covid vaccine is actually a formula manufactured for SARS (a form of the coronavirus, also called SARS CoV) that dates all the way back to 2003. That’s more than fifteen years in the making. Vaccine testing takes 1.5-3 years before the FDA can safely approve it. So, it seems there’s been plenty of time for testing. Because SARS and Covid-19 are so similar it was possible to use this vaccine for emergency use against Covid-19.

This new technology is called CRISPR: Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats. The CRISPR cell method is more effective than traditional vaccines which allows your body to recognize the virus through exposure to a dead cell. Basically, it makes a blueprint of the virus DNA so that it can intercept it and remember it. This DNA ultimately does go away after a certain point in time which means there is no chance that the DNA or replication will remain a part of your original DNA. So, if everyone gets the shot then Covid-19 will go away and we won’t need booster shots.      

I also happen to know from personal experience that this vaccine does not contain a microchip. While working in Animal Rescue through the first part of the pandemic, I helped a vet tech by holding a dog while she microchipped it. A microchipping needle is large and hollow. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. The microchip goes under a thick layer of skin, not into the muscle like a vaccine does. Although, there are times when the microchip in a dog does move into the muscle. In the event that this happens, the chip can no longer scan and is rendered useless. When I got vaccinated at the Walmart Pharmacy they used a regular needle with fluid in the dropper. 

Another conspiracy going around is that masks are ineffective. This too is not the case. Certain studies such as Bae et. al deliberately misled the public stating that there were traces of the virus on the outside of the mask, thus, the masks were an ineffective means of protection against the virus. Their experiment was inconclusive. For one, the fit of the mask was not included in the study. (In order for the mask to work it must fit the participant properly.)

Secondly, the experiment took place within the same room where participants had coughed into a petri dish before coughing into a mask. This means that there were already contaminants in the air. And although there are contaminants on the outside of a mask, most people remove their mask then wash their hands or use hand sanitizer. Typically, most people don’t touch other people’s masks. 

The truth was that the study found that cotton masks reduced the rate of Sars-COV-2 transmission by 80%. There have been various other studies conducted during the pandemic with misleading results causing the publications to be retracted. 

Wearing a mask is a simple process. For someone to take a political stance on this saying, “My Body, My Choice” is wrong. “My Body, My Choice” is a statement that applies to a pregnant person choosing to move forward with or choosing to terminate a pregnancy. It is a decision that affects them alone. Not wearing a mask affects lots of people because you will end up spreading Covid-19. The fact that anti-vaxxers are more likely to be conservative Republicans supporting anti-choice laws, co-opting this slogan shows disregard for bodily autonomy and a highly inconsistent ethic when it comes to actual “choice”.

Additionally, saying “I Can’t Breathe” is equally wrong and altogether racist when it comes to anti-mask slogans. “I Can’t Breathe” belongs to the Black Lives Matter movement which mobilized in 2020 in response to the murder of George Floyd and many other innocent black citizens who have been killed by the police. Yes, you can breathe with a mask on. 

If there are studies that falsify information about masks and vaccines then it’s safe to say that someone’s personal opinion shared online is likely false as well. Take a step back and consider the source. Your aunt Jenny on Facebook does not know more than someone at the CDC. The majority of citizens were okay with getting the H1N1 vaccine, and we had far fewer deaths from the flu that season than we have in the past year and a half. Plus, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine used traditional technology and many people were scared of it after thirty-nine people developed Thrombosis with Thrombocytopenia Syndrome (TTS) out of thirteen million who received the shot. The reason we no longer distribute the Smallpox vaccine is because this illness has mostly been eradicated due to inoculation. 

Although, sadly, when I discuss the Covid shot with unvaccinated friends I feel as though I’m just arguing politics. But one thing that I can say is that although I did get sick from getting Moderna, it was not that bad and I knew in the long run it would protect me from potential hospitalization, which is now greatly impacting our healthcare system given the increase of unvaccinated people overwhelming hospitals around the US.

After the first shot I felt mild symptoms which came in flu-like waves for a couple days. That being said, I was still able to maintain a life outside my apartment. The second shot hit me within three hours and lasted probably exactly 24 hours. Then the discomfort passed. I have not had symptoms since. 

If you or someone you know is on the fence about getting vaccinated, try redirecting them from Facebook to the CDC website. The World Health Organization and your local health department websites will all bring you factual information as well. Let people know that just because Covid-19 may present mild symptoms for you, that doesn’t mean the person that you spread it to won’t become extremely sick. That’s why the vaccine is so important.

Oddly enough, it was one of my high school friends stopped me from becoming an anti-vaxxer ten years ago. I was trying to get out of the meningitis shot for fear that it would hurt. My former classmate told me that he had contracted malaria that summer from not getting the vaccine and so perhaps I should just go ahead and get inoculated. His encouragement worked, so here I am today hoping to encourage people to do the same.

If we don’t end this pandemic the virus will continue to mutate. This means it will grow stronger and more vaccines and boosters will be required until we have run out options. If there was a vaccine available during the plague, history may have looked different.

Look at the CDC website yourself and give people reliable, scientific evidence that this vaccine will not hurt them. Whether it’s the meningitis shot or a shot to prevent Sars-COV-2 I’m personally glad that my body is a part of advancements in medical science.

Katie Coughlin is a freelance writer based out of Austin, TX. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Asheville with a bachelor’s in English and Creative Writing. In her spare time she enjoys reading, studying pop culture and politics, going on day trips and running. Her favorite shows are ‘Six Feet Under’, and ‘Star Trek Voyager’. She has a rescue dog named Reba.