By Sara Medalen, Minot, 2020 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year

Kayla Dornfeld, Mapleton, 2019 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year

Leah Juelke, Fargo, 2018 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year

Heather Tomlin-Rohr, Jamestown, 2016 and 2018 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year finalist

and Mary Eldredge Sandbo, Des Lacs Burlington, 2010 North Dakota State Teacher of the Year

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When we returned to school to teach during the 2020-2021 school year, we covered our faces with protective masks, and so did our students. We moved our desks farther apart, and we did everything we could to keep our classrooms safe. These measures included hours of cleaning and doing our best to maintain social distancing as our school safety plans recommended. We accepted those changes because we wanted to keep students learning while protecting them and everyone in our community from COVID-19.

We are hopeful that the coming school year will be much less about COVID-19 and much more about learning, growing, and continuing to build relationships in our classrooms. That’s one of the reasons why we made the personal decision to get vaccinated. It’s one small gesture that protects our students, co-workers and families.

While COVID-19 can hurt or kill anyone regardless of their health or age, the virus more frequently takes advantage of the most vulnerable among us. We know young people are less likely to face serious COVID-19 symptoms, but we also know at least one North Dakota teenager died from COVID-19. And one is too many.

We are not always aware of who around us might have medical conditions like asthma or diabetes. Likewise, we don’t always know who has regular contact with family members who are vulnerable to the risks associated with COVID-19. When we choose to get vaccinated, it means we’re protecting not only ourselves and our families but our students and their families. It also means we are looking out for everyone we work around and their families, too.

We know that some North Dakotans are skeptical about receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. While skepticism toward any rapid process, like developing the COVID-19 vaccinations, is understandable and normal, the available vaccines are proven to be safe. They are the most effective method to stop the spread of the virus that overloaded our hospitals and overwhelmed our heroic health care workers.

In our experience, the side effects were minimal, a day at most of flu-like symptoms that beat a trip to the hospital or, even worse, the loss of a loved one from COVID-19. All North Dakotans above age 16 are eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccinations, which are available through our doctors, local pharmacists, and even at Walmart. They’re convenient, they’re safe and they work.

We have a chance to put this virus and the pandemic behind all of us once and for all. But it takes all of us to reach herd immunity, and that’s why we decided to get vaccinated.