Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 10
A Highly Effective Vaccine Is Likely on the Way.
What Does That Mean for Schools and Kids?
Dr. Walter Orenstein
a professor of infectious diseases at Emory
University School of Medicine and a former
director of the immunization program at the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
an epidemiologist serving on San Antonio's
COVID Response Coalition and the CEO
of the San Antonio AIDS Foundation
ews that two COVID-19 vaccines on
the runway are far more effective than
originally predicted has been hailed as a
potential game-changer in fighting the coronavirus.
Pfizer Inc. and Moderna announced this
month that early results from clinical trials show
their vaccines are 90 and 95 percent effective,
respectively-which would put them on par with the
childhood vaccine for measles. Many scientists had
anticipated the level of effectiveness would be only
about 50 or 60 percent.
Because supply will be limited at first, vaccines
will be rationed. As EdWeek has reported, it's
possible that teachers and other school employees
may get priority for vaccinations over some other
But the vaccines have not yet been tested in young
children. Trials with older children have only just
begun for the Pfizer vaccine, which it is developing
with the German company, BioNTech. So what
could a possible vaccine mean for schools? Could
it bring more students into the classroom and ease
other mitigation efforts as long as teachers are
inoculated? And when will a COVID-19 vaccine
that's safe for children be ready?
Education Week put these and other questions
to two experts: Dr. Walter Orenstein and Cherise
Rohr-Allegrini. (The interviews were conducted
after the Pfizer announcement, but before Moderna
had released its preliminary results.)
Their responses were edited for length and clarity.
Here's what the experts had to say:
10 | EDUCATION WEEK | November 25, 2020 | www.edweek.org
If districts are able to inoculate large numbers
of their employees, would schools be able to
return to full-time in-person learning?
both kids and adults are [getting vaccinated]. It would be
concerning to me if we had no vaccine for children. We
need to get it, and get it sooner rather than later.
Orenstein: You're asking the right question. It's unclear
from the Pfizer data so far what the age distribution of the trial
participants is. How effective is it in older people? In younger
people? We don't know that yet. If it is 90 percent-plus
effective [as Pfizer indicated], and when there is an adequate
supply so groups like teachers would be recommended for the
vaccine, it would certainly facilitate their coming back. Where
they will be within the priorities [to be vaccinated] is not yet
clear. We know frontline health care workers are at the top of
the list, then elderly people.
Rohr-Allegrini: Having a vaccine for adults is very
important for schools because we can feel more confident
that the adults are protected. Teens are as likely to
transmit as adults. The youngest ones, it doesn't mean
they aren't infectious or perfectly safe, but the risk is
Rohr-Allegrini: Until we have a vaccine for everyone, we
will have to follow strict control measures. But it means we
can maybe bring more kids into the classroom. So much as
well is dependent on community transmission.
Can schools ease up on mitigation efforts like
masks and social distancing when vaccinations
Rohr-Allegrini: I think the more people who are
vaccinated, that will decrease community transmission,
which will allow you to relax some of those mitigation efforts.
If the goal is to have as many children in school as possible, we
might have to relax on the physical distancing requirements
for a classroom, but we keep the mask requirements.
Remember, 90 percent effective means that there are still
10 percent who will get the vaccine who are not going to be
protected. And then you have the others who can't get the
vaccine for medical reasons, so you are going to have people
who are still at risk. So you're going to have to be cautious
until we have community transmission at such a low level
that we can feel comfortable that there is very limited risk.
Orenstein: If there was enough vaccine to vaccinate
everybody, including children, and we had a high uptake
of it, then I think we could relax the social distancing,
mask-wearing, those non-pharmaceutical interventions.
But we certainly won't be able to do that right away. We
shouldn't expect 300 million doses the first day. We'll have
to see the data from Pfizer, [and] what indications and
recommendations the FDA gives for its use. Hopefully, we
have a number of other vaccines coming down the pike as
well. And I hope to see similar efficacies. That would facilitate
a highly vaccinated and highly immune population.
What are the limitations of the new vaccine for
Orenstein: At the moment there are a lot of unknowns.
One big hassle is distributing it. This vaccine needs very,
very strict maintenance of the cold chain, at -70, -80 degrees
centigrade. Second, there's the number of doses available.
Third, we need to develop a process where the vaccine
could be administered safely. For example, we wouldn't
want to gather people in an indoor stadium or movie theater
to vaccinate them. We don't want them coming so close
to each other. We need to assure the public we have good
efficacy and safety in all the potential populations.
How important a piece of the puzzle in K-12
vaccine make any difference for K-12 schools if
it can only be used with adults?
Orenstein: I think we need to get to the point where
What is the timeline for getting a COVID-19
vaccine for children?
Orenstein: [laughing] I wish I had a good crystal ball.
My hope would be the middle of next year, maybe early
next year, but I don't know. Children have not been in
most of the studies. We're just getting to that now. It will
take longer. It's really important to get the data presented
and published in a peer-reviewed journal so these
questions can be answered.
Rohr-Allegrini: This Pfizer vaccine, they have started
to test it in kids as young as 12. I think other vaccine
manufacturers will start soon as well. Assuming this
vaccine works in children, I suspect it will be ready in six
months or so. Not this school year-I would be shocked
just because it takes a while to ramp it up and you always
roll out a vaccine slowly.
Why is there a delay in producing a COVID-19
vaccine for children?
Rohr-Allegrini: I wouldn't call it a delay-normally a
vaccine takes years to develop. That we have a vaccine in
less than a year, that's promising-it really is warp speed,
it's incredible. Normally when we develop a vaccine,
we start with the population that is most at risk but also
is relatively healthy because you don't want to test it in
people who have other complications.
And we tend to test it in adults first. There are a lot
of reasons why we don't want to start with children-
ethical reasons. Adults can consent for themselves.
Having a parent consent for their child adds a layer of
What are the most important things
communities can do to handle " vaccine
hesitancy " ?
Orenstein: We need to be truthful, show we're not
cutting corners, and give the public confidence that the
data we present on effectiveness and safety are real and
valid. Vaccines don't save lives; vaccinations save lives. A
vaccine that remains in the vial is zero percent effective.
How should school leaders deal with vaccine
hesitancy among teachers and school staff?
Rohr-Allegrini: The messaging has to incorporate
enough of the science that people feel confident in
getting the vaccine and we need to be sensitive to any
concerns, that they're not scared or that they feel forced
into getting it.
I don't expect school district leaders to be scientific experts
on vaccines. But you rely on the people that are to craft your
messaging. We know the questions that come up-we're used
to these questions, we get them all the time. We know how to
craft these messages in a sensitive way.
Education Week - November 25, 2020
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - November 25, 2020
Education Week - November 25, 2020
Training Bias Out of Teachers: Does It Work?
What the Research Says
Pandemic Is a Workers’ Rights Issue For Schools
How Hybrid Learning Is (and Is Not) Working During COVID-19: 6 Case Studies
A Highly Effective Vaccine Is Likely on the Way. What Does That Mean for Schools And Kids?
Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
Districts Are Retreating to Remote Learning As COVID-19 Surges. Do They Have To?
How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
Let’s Get Back to School—Differently
How to Support Your Grieving Students
23 EdWeek Top School Jobs
Parents Are Watching Like Never Before. ‘Trust Us’ Isn’t Enough
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Education Week - November 25, 2020
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Briefly Stated
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 3
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Training Bias Out of Teachers: Does It Work?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - What the Research Says
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 6
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 7
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How Hybrid Learning Is (and Is Not) Working During COVID-19: 6 Case Studies
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 9
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - A Highly Effective Vaccine Is Likely on the Way. What Does That Mean for Schools And Kids?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 11
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Home Schooling Is Way Up With COVID-19. Will It Last?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 13
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Districts Are Retreating to Remote Learning As COVID-19 Surges. Do They Have To?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 15
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How Will Schools Pay for Compensatory Services for Special Ed. Students?
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 17
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Let’s Get Back to School—Differently
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - How to Support Your Grieving Students
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 20
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 21
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 22
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - 23 EdWeek Top School Jobs
Education Week - November 25, 2020 - Parents Are Watching Like Never Before. ‘Trust Us’ Isn’t Enough