Despite Promise, Vaccine Unlikely To Jumpstart In-Person School This Spring

by Solaiman Hassanin ‘23

At the start of November, Pfizer, one of the many companies working on a coronavirus vaccine, came out with news that trials showed that its vaccine was 95-percent successful. In mid-November, Moderna reported that its vaccine was 94-percent successful and Pfizer has asked for an emergency authorization for the use of their vaccine. Shipments have begun for the new Pfizer vaccine, and some individuals both in the United States and Worldwide have begun to receive the vaccine. 

For schools particularly, the rollout of vaccines is a crucial topic that may decide everything in the spring and going forward. With so many school districts still virtual or hybrid, returning to in-person instruction will be crucial for the development of students. However, the Operation Warp Speed page on the U.S. Department of Defense seems to indicate that it is unlikely that a vaccine will immediately end the pandemic, with what is seemingly a more slow recovery to pre-pandemic life. Although the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Maryland Health Department both have released plans for a rollout, Maryland has not specified whether or not students must be vaccinated for them to attend school, whenever it is back in counties such as Montgomery County. They also have not specified whether or not they will vaccinate at schools.  

“We have to get these too long term facilities, to meatpacking plants. We have to be mobile to be able to cover the whole country, and not depend on people to come to us,” said Paul Ostrowski, Operation Warp Speed Director for Supply, Production, and Distribution, on the U.S. Department of Defense website. He did not single out teachers or students, and it seems like those specifics will be figured out at the state level. Operation Warp Speed is the government operation to quickly and effectively distribute the vaccine. It will be working with states and the federal government to distribute over 300 million doses of an upcoming vaccine. States have received 200 million dollars in help to prepare for distribution and will be receiving another $140 million.  

Vaccination may also not be a very comfortable experience. The CDC said in late November that side effects would not be easy, describing them as “not a walk in the park,” and saying that people will likely feel subpar for a few days after the vaccination of the person occurs. Both Moderna and Pfizer’s vaccines require two doses for them to work, which will double the need for doses and equipment. Dr. Sandra Fyhofer, a practicing physician, told CNBC that she worries that some patients may not come back for the necessary second dose because the first dose will be an unpleasant experience. 

Operation Warp Speed has started some distribution, with Dr. Fauci saying that healthy individuals may be eligible for the vaccine as early as late March and early April, and hope to eventually distribute 300 million doses of the vaccine to the vast majority, if not all, of the population. It will likely be a long time until there are enough people vaccinated for herd immunity, as experts say that will take 60-80 percent of the population having immunity. Although there is increased hope for a safe and important return to school, it is unlikely to happen until spring, if lucky. However, the good news is that with Pfizer receiving emergency approval, and the FDA panel recommending the approval of the new Moderna vaccine, Americans could potentially be beginning to come back to normal life by the end of the school year. In the meantime, masks and social distancing are still as crucial as ever, with cases skyrocketing and a renewed fear that some communities might still not be prepared for the pandemic.