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Youth movement: 2 members of governor’s STEM Scholars Program make plea for public to get vaccinated

Published in ROI-NJ In the last year, more than 20,000 New Jerseyans have died from COVID-19 — more than those who perished from both World Wars, the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. Currently, more than eight in 100 New Jerseyans have tested positive — with countless more likely to have contracted the illness without getting tested. With the approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines at the end of 2020, a return to normalcy is on the horizon, but only if we achieve herd immunity against the virus.

As high school and college STEM students, our futures are dependent upon a return to the normal. Thanks to technology, we can connect and learn from teachers and each other, but the pandemic has limited our access to important educational opportunities, including vital hands-on experiential learning and lab experiments. At the year mark of the pandemic — which happens to coincide with New Jersey STEM Month — we must trust the science behind the vaccine.

Unfortunately, public opinion toward the vaccine is not yet on our side. According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation study, less than half of Americans are willing to receive the vaccine when it becomes available to them, with another third of the population wanting to “wait and see” its effects on others before committing to get vaccinated. Despite the recent research and clinical data backing the available COVID-19 vaccines, many are still distrustful of this “new science” — voicing concerns about its novelty and speed to market. We hope to set the record straight so that we can safely return to doing the things we love.

Both the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines are messenger RNA vaccines, or mRNA, which teach our bodies what COVID-19 looks like, so it can produce antibodies that protect us against the illness. While these will be the first mRNA-based vaccines to be used, the technology has been studied for decades. Scientists around the world have tested the use of viral mRNA on viruses like rabies, Zika and even the flu. Advances in biochemistry have allowed this style of vaccination to provide the protection from COVID-19 that we see today.

A common misconception of mRNA vaccines is that they change your DNA. This theory, popularized through social media, has been debunked by scientists, yet continues to seep into public opinion. mRNA is used as a template for protein cons