As a teenager who has experienced much of my high school career being plagued by the tragic COVID-19 pandemic, I think it is important that the point of view of teenagers be communicated to the public during these tough times. I have been heavily involved with the pandemic, working as a student ambassador with the LA Department of Public Health, giving presentations to other students interested in spreading awareness about the pandemic. As we get back to normal, it is a great time for all of us to reflect on the last two years and how the events of this period have changed us individually and as a community.

It is ironic that, as teenagers, a period of our lives that is filled with change at default has been overturned to an even higher degree. It’s not easy to be going through the most transformative time of our lives and concurrently having the world around us, quite literally, on lockdown. Because of this, I think I can speak for many young people when I say that it was an especially overwhelming time.

While in online school, I saw my elementary aged brother struggle to focus in such an unfamiliar learning environment. I saw the mental strain that being confined inside the house had on my elderly grandparents, who are immigrants that don’t know any English. I will also never forget the devastating stories I read on social media of people having to say goodbye to their parents, grandparents, and siblings over facetime instead of in person. Especially living in Los Angeles, which was one of the most heavily impacted cities in the world, these struggles were exacerbated.

Seeing all of the pain and suffering around me during this dark period, I didn’t want to be idle to the problems in my community. I realized that I was a young adult with an interest in science, and potential to have a great impact on helping my community. I also saw a great amount of vaccine hesitancy and myths circulating among classmates at my school and on social media. As a result, I started to research and learn about how the vaccine works. I have always been deeply interested in biology and enjoyed learning about how the vaccine works on the molecular level. I learned about how the virus enters the body, multiplies, and affects the host. I also learned about therapeutics and antibody treatments that can be used to giht COVID-19 infection in high-risk patients. I consulted accredited websites, physicians, and CDC information to make an extensive slideshow dispelling myths about the COVID-19 vaccine. After months of research, I presented at my school, to minority congregations, as well as to representatives of the LA Department of Public Health. The Department enjoyed my presentation, and I have since been working very closely with them as a Student Ambassador.

I have led discussions in student workshops and met like-minded teenagers who want to spread accurate information about the pandemic in a world where so much misinformation is circulating on social media and the internet. I have been able to use all of the information that I have learned to communicate the advantages of vaccination in real-world situations such as volunteering at community events, giving speeches and presentations about vaccination online or in-person, and speaking to my friends and family who are reluctant to get vaccinated. I respect everybody’s opinion and right to choose whether to get vaccinated, but my goal is simply to give people access to scientifically accurate information that may lead them to voluntarily change their decision-making process.

As for the current state of vaccination, at the moment it is most important that we vaccinate our children. This June, the FDA approved the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines for children 6 months and older. We need to empower student and parent ambassadors to learn and disseminate accurate information about the vaccines in their communities, especially to those who are hesitant to immunize themselves or their children.

Other recent developments have included the FDA’s approval and Emergency Use Authorization of the new bivalent COVID-19 vaccine. This vaccination contains the conventional mRNA component used against the original strain of the virus as well as a second component protecting against the currently prevalent lineages of the omicron variant.

The new bivalent vaccines are given as a booster after a primary series of vaccinations – at least two months after the most recent dose. Individuals who have already had another booster are still recommended to take the bivalent vaccine.

With Moderna and Pfizer having developed their own versions of the bivalent vaccine, the bivalent Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine is authorized for use in individuals 18 years of age and older, while the bivalent Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine is authorized for individuals 12 years of age and older.

Alongside getting vaccinated, taking protective measures recommended by the CDC, such as constant hand-washing, mask-wearing and distancing (especially indoors), and staying home when sick remains important. To reach herd immunity and recover fully from the pandemic, it is important that as parents, brothers, sisters, and friends, we spread awareness about the importance and efficacy of the vaccine. It is our job as individuals to make change in the community.

Through this experience as a Vaccine Ambassador, I have learned two very important things:

First of all, I have gotten an insight into how important public health is aside from the clinical aspect of healthcare in these times of distress. Being able to look at healthcare from a population-based perspective is so important to taking steps to go back to normal after as big an obstacle as COVID-19.

Additionally, I have been able to see, first hand, the power of togetherness and positive thinking during the rebuilding of our communities from this pandemic that is ongoing. In difficult times, people need to support each other and collectively take action to problem-solve. My journey as a Vaccine Ambassador has helped me meet hundreds of people in my community who resemble this idea of stewardship during the pandemic. This ranges from medical professionals who have put in countless hours of treating patients, to researchers who have dedicated their lives to finding solutions to treat the virus, and to citizens who have voluntarily given up their time to help those in need during the pandemic. The individual efforts of all of our community servants have contributed to the widespread prevention of infection and to positive outcomes for COVID-19 patients.

This entire experience has constantly reinstated to me the importance of taking action to serve my community in times of distress. I have been able to channel the negativity of the pandemic into a project through which I have spread awareness to countless people about something so dire, and it is a passion that I will continue to pursue.

Givi Mchedlishvili, Beverly Hills