With the arrival of the new Biden administration, the question of when Belmont Hill will receive the Coronavirus vaccine looms. As of January 23, 2021, there are 24.9 million cases and 414,000 deaths in the US. However, the development of vaccines late in the Trump administration has given promise for the future. Currently, the two vaccines approved by the FDA were developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The Pfizer vaccine must be kept at -70 Celcius and is approved for ages 16 and up. The Moderna vaccine must be kept at -20 degrees celsius and is approved for ages 18 and up. Thus, eligible students at Belmont Hill would most likely take the Pfizer vaccine. Both vaccines require taking two doses, separated by three weeks. Although there is a pressing need for vaccines, distribution has had a slow start. From statistics in early January, of the 14 million vaccines sent out, only around 2.8 million were distributed. The Biden administration has presented several commitments for vaccination that may lead to Belmont Hill receiving the vaccine as early as the spring.
A myriad of logistical problems has plagued the vaccine rollout so far. Because of the holiday season, many nurses and other medical personnel have taken time off from their hard work, some of which may have played a part in vaccination. Also, maintaining physical distance has been challenging. Adding onto these difficulties, after receiving the vaccine, individuals have to wait 15 minutes to make sure they do not have a reaction that would require medical assistance. Although the process is slow now, analysts believe that systems will be optimized as organizations gain more familiarity with inoculation. In order to maximize distribution, funding has to be increased towards distributing the vaccines to the degree that was given for developing the vaccines.
The Biden Administration is tackling the coronavirus head-on by committing to vaccinate 100 million people in 100 days. I spoke with two parents in the Belmont Hill community who have themselves received the vaccine, Dr. Florence Bourgeois, mother of Sammy Davis ’24, and Dr. Meghan McGrath, mother of Caleb McGrath-Sheldrick ’21. Dr. Bourgeois, a physician at Boston Children’s Hospital and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School, provided much of the information in this article. Pfizer and Moderna have both said they would produce 100 million doses for the US, which delivers on Biden’s promise as there are two shots per person, totaling 200 million doses. As of today, both companies are producing around 4.3 million doses per week. However, to reach their goal, production would almost have to increase twofold to 7.5 million doses per week. On completing this feat, Dr. Bourgeois said, “This is the first time these types of mRNA vaccines are being produced at such enormous scale and it’s not clear at what rate companies will be able to ramp up production.” However, she remains faithful to the companies carrying their promises. Additionally, Dr. Bourgeois noted that the challenge of vaccination is not unique to the US and may not necessarily reflect mismanagement by an administration.
Considering recent developments, Belmont Hill may receive vaccines as early as spring but currently has no plan to do so. In Massachusetts, teachers are included in Phase 2 of vaccination, which is slated to begin sometime between February and March. Thus, teachers at Belmont Hill have a high chance to be eligible for vaccination this spring. For students, the vaccine is set to be available for everyone starting in the spring or summer. Even then, most students could only take the Pfizer vaccine only if they are 16 or older. However, there is hope for younger students as Pfizer and Moderna have trials underway testing children as young as 12 years old. That said, Dr. Bourgeois stated, “It’s unclear, however, when this approval [for ages 12-15] will occur, in part because the Emergency Use Authorization that was granted by the FDA for approval of the vaccine in adults, will not be an appropriate mechanism for kids.” As trials will take time to complete, the vaccine will not arrive to students as soon as some wish, however, we can remain hopeful for sometime in the spring or the summer!
Although we currently face several challenges in vaccine distribution, shots in arms will increase in the ensuing months. The Biden Administration’s plan of 100 million patients vaccinated shows promise towards the galvanization of the current system. Every day as time passes, we gain more experience distributing vaccines, which will eventually lead to Belmont Hill students getting inoculated. As we wait there is much we can do as Dr. McGrath, says, “For now, keep wearing masks, maintain distance, spend time with friends outdoors as much as possible, avoid needless travel and hang in there – there is light at the end of this tunnel.”