People, you may have heard, are eager for a hot vax summer. After more than a year of feeling hemmed in, vaccinated humans are ready to be around each other, hugging, beaching, laughing, sunshine on their (maybe maskless) faces. But there’s a portion of the worldwide population that still doesn’t have access to the vaccine, who has also endured a stressful year of adjustments and change. Teens are just as eager for a summer that resembles “normal” as anyone else — but will they have one?
Since the CDC has only approved Covid-19 vaccination for people aged 16 years and older, many high school students in the US haven’t been inoculated yet. And around the world, different rollout plans and accessibility means that many countries have yet to finish vaccinating their more at-risk populations, leaving teenagers with no visible opportunity to get the jab.
But this doesn’t guarantee another summer of at-home workouts and viral TikTok recipes. In the US, the expedited rollout means that even kids who are too young to get vaccinated can enjoy more freedom since their parents and older relatives will be inoculated, lessening worry of transferring the virus. Internationally, this varies, but many EU countries have recently nearly doubled the pace of vaccination after an increase in supplies.
This is good news for high school students, because teens need this summer. The past year and a half has seen a combination of lockdowns, online school, home school, and various hybrid models. Combined with heightened isolation, stress, and a lack of social interaction, this has made many high school students feel like they’ve missed out on important experiences, something that can hopefully be made up for by activities and gatherings planned for outside.
“Because of the contextual layers of the pandemic, like the limitations on our ability to connect, students are feeling more burnt out than ever,” Elizabeth Aranda, a psychologist at the University of California Berkeley, told Vox. “They are feeling disconnected because it takes more energy to reach out through the computer rather than just running into each other after class.”
Many teens are cautiously optimistic that the seasonal break may alleviate that heaviness and isolation. “We want to do so many cool things that we didn’t get to do over the past year and a half and take advantage of so many opportunities, but there’s also that teen anxiety of like, ‘I don’t want to be the first one to do it. I don’t want to be the person to break the bubble and put myself back out there,’” said Jasper Byrne, of Richmond, California, who’ll be a senior in the fall.
I spoke with four high school students who are looking forward to spending this summer seeing friends, doing college prep, and regaining a sense of normalcy. Our conversations have been edited and condensed for clarity.
“I’m really looking forward to being less stressed and more free”
Lily Vaughn, 14, Georgetown, Texas
My mom’s a teacher, so she got her vaccine pretty early on and my dad just got his second dose like a week ago, so I can finally do stuff with some of my friends. They’ve started the trials for the vaccine on kids my age, and a couple of my friends have participated, but I have asthma so I haven’t been able to — otherwise I would jump right on that. When we first went into lockdown in March last year, I did not leave my house at all. My parents didn’t want to risk it, so we were really careful. I think I’ve sat inside of a restaurant like four times since then.
I’m a cheerleader, and since I’m joining high school in the fall, I have to do a cheer camp this summer to prepare for the team. It’s really exciting because it’s at Texas A&M, so I’ll stay in the dorms with my friends. More than anything, it’s supposed to be a good bonding experience for the whole team — we haven’t been able to do events like that in so long. High schools from all around the area attend, and then at the end there’s a competition and the best team gets a blue ribbon. It’s a big tradition in the cheer world, so I’m so excited that they found ways to be safe instead of canceling it like so many other things.
This summer, I also might drive to San Diego with my parents and my brother and maybe check out some colleges there because that’s where my parents are from. I’ve been wanting to go for years, so this summer would be the perfect time. Overall, I’m really looking forward to being less stressed and more free, like I can do things without having to worry about school and grades or Covid as much.
“I have a lot of plans to write short stories ... because I haven’t had time recently”
Lazuardi Choiri Imani, 17, Sumbawa, Indonesia
The environment in Sumbawa is very normal — too normal — because people don’t take Covid seriously enough. My family and I are still low on the priority list to get vaccinated, so it will still be a while for us. My neighbor, some of my family members, and my high school teacher have all gotten Covid. Some people wear masks but they don’t fear it enough and we go in and out of lockdown all the time.
In school, it’s very amusing because it happens often where we go to school for three days, and then the next three days we do online learning because of a new lockdown. I’ve sometimes woken up late and started preparing to leave the house until I remember that it’s an online learning day. But it’s also very tiring and frustrating especially because I have been preparing for my university entrance tests. So I’m excited for the summer when I will be done with high school and looking forward to becoming a freshman in the fall.
This summer, I have a lot of plans to write short stories because I have loved to write since I was in elementary school and I haven’t had time recently. I really like science fiction and I have a lot of ideas in mind. For example, I watch a lot of criminal shows like CSI and I’ve even written fanfiction about being on a crime show or an investigative team.
I will also be working for the public relations department for the Young Researchers of Indonesia. I got the job because I did some research last year about the language of Sumbawa, which is Sumbawarese. The language will be extinct soon if we don’t save it starting now and there are a lot of problems that happen in the process of protecting it.
This summer we have a lot planned. We work under the Ministry of Education, so we’ll train young people how to start their own research projects in Indonesia.
“There’s also that teen anxiety of like, ‘I don’t want to be the person to break the bubble and put myself back out there’”
Jasper Byrne, 17, Richmond, California
To me, the theme of this summer is making back lost time. March 2020 was the last time I was physically in school so I missed out on a year and a half of time with classmates and teachers so there’s a big opportunity this summer to reverse that.
I think a lot of people my age have positive energy going into this summer, but it’s not always easy to show that. Almost all the kids in my class that I’ve spoken to about this echo the same thing: This summer is going to be super important. We want to do so many cool things that we didn’t get to do over the past year and a half and take advantage of so many opportunities, but there’s also that teen anxiety of like, “I don’t want to be the first one to do it. I don’t want to be the person to break the bubble and put myself back out there.”
I’ll be getting my second dose of Pfizer in May and I got my license recently, so I’m looking forward to maybe going on some road trips with friends or up to a national park or just exploring because I’ve missed out on all those opportunities for like a year and a half so I want to get them back over the summer. Usually during the summer, I’m big on video games and I stay inside a lot, but there’s so many other things I could be doing. I have a lot more freedom now and I can go places and see people and that’s a big contrast from the closed-off Zoom experience I’ve had for so long.
“I’ll have time to just take a bit of a break”
Lea Moutault, 17, Brussels, Belgium
A lot of people online talk about lockdown and how it’s so boring and they just don’t have anything to do, but that’s genuinely been the opposite for me. I’ll be graduating soon and it’s been so stressful with deadlines and going back and forth from hybrid high school to online school, so I’m looking forward to the summer when I’ll have time to just take a bit of a break.
My parents and I haven’t been vaccinated yet since Belgium is still focusing on the high-risk population, but we should all get it by June. The thing I’m most excited for post-vaccination is being able to just do different activities like going to the cinema or summer fairs because we’ve been so limited in almost all the leisure activities that we can do. It feels kind of decadent to be focusing on that when there’s obviously so much worse that a lot of people are struggling with, but I’m really looking forward to those kinds of restrictions being relaxed a bit over the summer.
I do worry about how equal vaccination rollout is going to be around the world because especially with tensions between the UK and mainland Europe, we’ve been seeing unequal distribution of vaccines. I think that’s really harmful, especially if we want to live in a world where we can travel, and we can’t have that if there are countries that aren’t vaccinated yet, or just shut off. I think that is concerning, but it’ll get better with new vaccine improvements.