McCormick first-year Marcos Rios returned home for his brother’s graduation the first weekend of May and was overjoyed to safely hug his grandparents for the first time in over a year. Rios’ immediate family had been socially distancing from his grandparents since last March when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) urged Americans to avoid interacting with anyone outside of their household for fear of contracting COVID-19. At the end of a seemingly endless year, Rios and his family were finally able to safely see his grandparents thanks to the several COVID-19 vaccines.

According to the CDC, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are all effective in protecting vaccinated people from becoming infected and spreading the virus to others. As COVID-19 cases decrease nationally and vaccines become more widely available for all ages, Northwestern students are evaluating the safety and benefits of their potential summer plans while still following COVID-19 guidelines.

An illustration of an inflatable duck being filled by a vaccine syringe

As of May 12, the CDC accepted an FDA recommendation and announced that all citizens over the age of 12 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine. In addition to reducing the likelihood of contracting COVID-19, the vaccine also prevents deadly infection. As a result, friends and loved ones have been able to reunite after social distancing for over a year.

Rios followed COVID-19 precautions, including double masking when the CDC said it provided further protection from the virus. He also received both doses of the Moderna vaccine in preparation for the summer and encouraged his friends and family to do the same. This summer, Rios will be conducting independent research on campus through a grant he received from the Transportation Department. In addition, he plans to travel to New York to visit friends.

“The CDC said that I am safe and I am at a much lower risk of transmitting it to others,” Rios says. “If I’m at an outdoor event with all of my friends, it’s not my problem at that point.”

Travel restrictions are loosening, and the European Union recently announced that fully vaccinated Americans will be able to travel to Europe this summer. According to research from the data identity company Adara, summer flight bookings have experienced a sharp increase in recent months. However, Medill first-year Mya Franklin is still practicing some restraint when it comes to her air travel this summer.

“I will probably take a red-eye flight so there’s not too many people on the plane and go crazy with the masks and the face shield and everything,” Franklin says.

Franklin is fully vaccinated and will stay with family in Chicago this summer, though she plans on flying home to Houston in August to visit her mom and friends.

“The CDC said that I am safe and I am at a much lower risk of transmitting it to others. If I’m at an outdoor event with all of my friends, it’s not my problem at that point.”

McCormick first-year Marcos Rios

Both Rios and Franklin emphasize the importance of protecting those around them who are more susceptible to the perils of COVID-19, such as service workers and other non-student employees around campus.

“As students, we get regularly tested, but service workers, like people who work at Lisa’s and people who work in the dining halls and people who work at the testing facilities, do not have access to the same resources we have, and they are not getting regularly tested,” Franklin says.

Franklin says her vaccination makes her feel a little safer in terms of protecting those essential workers. While Rios now feels comfortable because of his vaccine, he also expressed concern that the country was opening up too quickly, citing issues regarding vaccine accessibility.

An illustration of an inflatable beach ball being filled by a vaccine sryinge

As of May 29, NPR reported that 41% of the US population is fully vaccinated and on track to have 85% of the population fully vaccinated by early December. But according to a recent survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation, 20% of Americans would “definitely not” get the vaccine or would do so “only if required.” However, the survey also found that 21% of employed adults who have yet to get the vaccine say they would be more willing if their employer gave them paid time off to get the vaccine and recover from side effects. The survey also suggested that incentives for vaccination, such as free transportation to vaccination sites from ride-sharing companies, could increase vaccination rates among Hispanic, Black and low-income people and help close the current racial and socioeconomic disparities in distribution.

However, vaccination accessibility isn’t stopping students’ summer plans as the country reopens. Weinberg second-year Elizabeth Bryant believes that the pace of reopening the country seems stable so far and says that people will not wait until everyone in the country is vaccinated to make summer plans. Bryant plans to work as a counselor at a girls’ overnight camp in northern Wisconsin which she attended as a child. She explains that the camp does not have any vaccine requirements, but it will have mandatory testing and quarantine periods to ensure everyone’s safety. They will also require people to wear masks inside and when around people outside their “bubble” of immediate cabin members and counselors.

If all goes according to plan with vaccine rollout, the country is likely to return to some sense of normalcy by late summer or early fall, according to a statement from Dr. Anthony Fauci in March. In support of Fauci’s predictions, the CDC announced on May 13 that fully vaccinated Americans no longer need to wear a mask or practice social distancing except where they are required to by law, including workplaces or local businesses.

Northwestern, along with hundreds of other universities, has mandated that all students must be fully vaccinated by the beginning of the 2021 Fall Quarter, and data predicts that COVID-19-related deaths and hospitalizations will significantly decrease by September 2021 due to increased vaccine availability.

Rios emphasized the importance of respecting the health of those around him while still acknowledging his own protection from the virus. He is looking forward to making up for lost time with his friends and family, specifically his grandparents: “They’re vaccinated, and knowing that I can be with them safely is the greatest joy of my life.”