Courtesy of Jordan Reif/The Observer
Well folks, the time has finally arrived. As we approach the one year mark from when Case Western Reserve University informed us that we would be studying remotely for a few weeks—which was quickly followed up by another email canceling all in-person classes for the rest of the semester—we can find joy in the arrival of vaccines to our university. On Thursday, March 4, hundreds of Cleveland residents received the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Ohio is now distributing vaccines to everyone in the 1B, 1C, and 2 phases—people over the age of 60, people who are pregnant or have serious preexisting conditions and people who work in law enforcement, firefighting, child care, or funeral arrangements. Only individuals who meet these criteria and live or work in Cleveland will be eligible for vaccination at CWRU.
Ohio authorized CWRU as a vaccine distribution site in 2020 and was notified by the City of Cleveland on Feb. 24 that vaccinations would arrive for March 4. The university commented that “In the succeeding days, university and city staff coordinated on processes and then university staff began extensive outreach Saturday.”
While vaccines have been available at other centers—including the Cleveland Clinic—for months, the arrival of doses to CWRU is particularly exciting. It eases the process for older faculty and staff to access vaccines, as well as energizes the rest of campus. Students without preexisting conditions or other eligible criteria are still weeks—if not months—away from inoculation, but these vaccines nevertheless give us hope that we may once again start to recognize our world.
That said, most of us are still in the dark about the vaccination process. CWRU distributed information to the community with facts about the vaccine, though it’s unclear how they communicated with residents and whether certain neighborhoods were targeted. Nevertheless, their painful but catchy, “It’s YOUR Shot” flyer shares vaccine eligibility and navigation directions (by driving or using the RTA) to access Veale Center.
Krysta Aulak, a third-year student, volunteered at the distribution site from 8-9am on March 4. Native to Cleveland, Aulak said, “I signed up [to volunteer] because I wanted to give back … I kept updated with the COVID-19 statistics from the beginning. It made me really sad to see how devastating the virus was in the area.” Aulak worked the first shift of the day preparing Horsburgh Gymnasium for distribution; she mainly “waited outside with a wheelchair and helped people to the vaccination site.” Near the end of her hour, people started receiving the vaccinations and Aulak commented that the process seemed very organized and people were excited to be there.
Be that as it may, we will all have to wait and see what vaccine distribution will look like once the majority of the student population is eligible. Namely, how many vaccines will be available and whether they will just be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
One concern will be how students may act differently after inoculation. The Pfizer vaccine is 94-95% effective against COVID-19, which may make students think they can resume relatively normal lifestyles of eating together in Leutner and hanging out on the weekends. However, it has not yet been proven that the vaccine prevents people from unknowingly transmitting the virus to others, and thus we will still need to continue wearing masks.
CWRU further commented on this concern, stating that “People who are fully vaccinated should still follow all preventative precautions (and must do so on campus).” It’s unclear whether that means all students will have to continue being tested weekly in addition to properly social distancing and wearing masks. All we can hope is that CWRU adequately communicates with us about the process as it draws nearer.
Many of us have already seen social media stories showing the cards that detail the first vaccine dose appointment and the date of the second one. These cards will likely be tokens we all keep as a reminder of the COVID-19 pandemic—in case a year of isolation is not enough. However, the pandemic will not become hindsight unless a sufficient number of people are vaccinated.
As of March 3, 15.3% of Ohio’s population had received at least one dose and 8.3% had received both doses. Most other states and territories are at similar levels; American Samoa is currently leading the pack at 26.4% of their population with one dose, while Puerto Rico lags behind at 10.8% and Georgia at 12.1%.
Approximately 70-90% of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity—dramatically limiting the spread of the virus. At our current pace of vaccination as of last week, we could reach 70% vaccinated by the end of August. That said, the recent approval of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may further speed up the process. Moreover, the Biden administration recently brokered a deal with a major pharmaceutical player, Merck & Company, to manufacture the vaccine. As a result, Biden announced on March 2 that there will be enough vaccines for all adults to be inoculated by the end of May.
While promising, we won’t get there without institutions taking a stand for the vaccine and science. The past year has reaffirmed that some Americans would rather express their First Amendment rights than give people of color rights, promote democracy or end a global pandemic. That said, the legal and ethical challenges should not prevent institutions like CWRU and the Cleveland Clinic from issuing a vaccination mandate. There is no reason a CWRU nursing student working with COVID-19 patients should be able to shrug and say, “I just don’t feel like getting the vaccine.” That is entirely unacceptable.
The longer it takes to vaccinate the population, the more people will die. By increasing vaccine rollout and reaching the immunity threshold by May, between 10,000-20,000 deaths could be prevented. According to a report from The Lancet Commission, the Trump Administration could have prevented 40% of COVID-19 deaths—equating to hundreds of thousands of lives—had they acted swiftly and appropriately. Let’s not continue to repeat the mistakes of our presidential predecessor and other “leaders” who ignore science.
We all have a role in ensuring adequate vaccination: talk with your skeptical family members, hold your politicians accountable and demand that your employers and institutions issue a vaccine mandate. The pandemic will not be over for us students until it is over everywhere, domestically and internationally, so it is also critical we are pushing for global vaccine pools and health funding. After all of this is over, we will all hopefully be a step closer to having one of those coveted vaccination cards.