A century ago, the Spanish influenza of 1918 wreaked havoc on the education of children across the United States. Most schools closed for four months, with only New York City and Chicago remaining open. Scientists grappled with their task of analyzing the limited information on infectious diseases and trying to manage the crisis without antibiotics. At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures impeded the learning of around 90 percent of students globally. Vaccinating teachers is a critical step towards putting education back on track. The United States is currently submerged in a delicate state of COVID-19 vaccinations; suppliers struggle to increase the number of people getting their first shots, while also ensuring that others get their second doses. SHS teachers, who received the vaccine, reflected on the administration of the vaccine, along with the long-term effects the vaccine could have on the school.
SHS English teacher Stephen Mounkhall, who looks forward to school opening normally, views the matter from the perspective of a larger community. Mounkhall was exhausted after the first vaccination but felt that it was worth it. Several teachers have experienced chills, fevers, headaches, or had trouble sleeping, while others encountered no side effects. “It runs the gamut,” he affirmed with an understanding that the second vaccination is speculated to have more of a reaction than the first. Mounkhall furthermore explained that the vaccination process was well run as he was able to receive his first shot in just 40 minutes, including the 15 minutes observation period.
After the second dose of the vaccination, Mounkhall certainly feels safer. Yet, even if all the teachers receive the second COVID vaccination, the worry is that the bigger community of Scarsdale and the nation as a whole will remain vulnerable to COVID. “It’s a fair question… are we putting students at risk?,” questioned Mounkhall. “Biden was saying that it was a national emergency for schools to open. Three million students in the country have had no schooling since last March. It is not just a Scarsdale problem,” he added. In every corner of all continents, 900 million students have been affected. Many education reports worry about having a lost generation, with detrimental declines in knowledge learning and social skills from the year-long lockdown.
SHS Computer Science and Mathematics teacher Douglas Vermes, who received the Pfizer vaccine, expressed how the second vaccination dose heightened his sense of individual security. He understands that no one could be sure if the vaccine is one hundred percent safe, but in recent weeks, there has been an increased amount of evidence; thus, taking the vaccine was a relatively easy decision for him. He also noted that vaccines, even highly effective ones, are only as successful if the nation can deliver them quickly and widely. Vermes scheduled the first vaccine early on, but explained that if he had done it an hour later, it would have been more difficult.
Similar to other front-line teachers, Vermes worries about his family, who have not been vaccinated. “There is not much evidence if I could be vaccinated and still [susceptible to the virus],” remarked Vermes. Despite schools substantial efforts to maintain social-distancing, teachers still come into close contact with many kids throughout the day who could be be silent spreaders. According to a recent estimate by Pew Research Center, one-third of children who have COVID-19 show no symptoms and are unlikely to be identified unless schools are doing robust testing. The reality is that sufficient physical distancing to prevent transmission of the COVID virus is not possible in many classrooms and schools. Nevertheless, the second vaccine dose is a step to provide teachers at SHS with greater safety.
World History teacher Carine Thompson also received the COVID vaccine. “The day when vaccines were opened up a lot of people on social media were rushing to get the vaccine, which definitely influenced my decision to get the vaccine,” she mentioned. Thompson described the process of scheduling the shot as being a challenge as it took her an hour and a half to sign up; nevertheless, she was relieved that she was able to schedule and take the shot at the same time as her parents.
The COVID-19 pandemic is undoubtedly a pivotal moment US history, and the battle is nowhere near an end. The challenges teachers and students face, both socially and academically, are unprecedented. We may forget the musical piece we played in the auditorium before the pandemic, but we will never forget the dedication and compassion SHS teachers showed us during such a difficult time. Although the scenery of the world may remain silent and empty throughout quarantine, our imagination and our gratitude must not.