The imminent vaccines

RBUSD schools are still waiting to open, but the day students can get vaccinated is even more distant

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PHOTO COURTESY OF CREATIVE COMMONS

The coronavirus vaccine is here! Just not for you. 

With the approval of a coronavirus vaccine on Dec. 11, medical professionals are looking forward to more businesses, workplaces and especially schools, to reopen. But the reopening date for schools is still far off, and the day students may get vaccines is even further.

The age limit on the Pfizer vaccine is 16 and older, and the vaccine will likely not be available to students until Phase 2 of vaccine distribution, of which dates have not been set. However, those aged 16-64 with health conditions may start receiving it in Phase 1c, and its estimated start date is in spring of 2021. 

Dr. Alice Kuo, a pediatrician for UCLA Medicine and one of the members of the Redondo Beach Unified School District (RBUSD) Reopening Think Tank noted that the companies were still studying the vaccines’ effects on children. 

“Those studies have not yet been completed and so the FDA will not approve those vaccines for children yet. So at the earliest I think the FDA will approve these vaccines for children perhaps winter this year or even 2022,” Kuo said. 

In addition, according to Ali Steward, the Director of Youth Services for the Beach Cities Health District (BCHD), there is no talk of a vaccine mandate for schools, especially since many students do not fall within the age range. RBUSD and BCHD do not make that decision anyway; any vaccine mandate will come from state legislation, just like the reopening of schools, for which there is also no plan.

“Currently under the governor’s blueprint for a safer economy, which he implemented in July of 2020, there is no path for seventh to 12th graders to come back to school on campus. There are student advocates who are trying to bring these students back to campus this year along with legislators who are concerned about this issue,” Kuo said. 

However, in-person learning has still taken place for vulnerable populations, which is defined as students with special education needs, English language learners, or students struggling with distance learning, with a total of 1,590 students back in 12 RBUSD schools. Only three coronavirus cases, all separate from each other have been identified among staff. Redondo Beach itself has experienced few outbreaks, but cases are still expected due to LA County’s high transmission rate.

“What we have seen is that school cases reflect the burden of transmission in the community. If the surrounding area around the school has a high number of coronavirus cases, then there is bound to be some positive cases in schools,” Kuo said. 

Of the 100,000 individuals back on campus in California, there have been about 450 positive cases over the course of three and a half months. Of the 450 cases, 375 were in adults. According to Kuo, “teachers are the ones bringing COVID onto campuses from their activities over the weekend or from their personal lives.” 

None of the cases confirmed at RBUSD schools so far have been defined as an outbreak. 

“We are in the midst of the third surge in LA County, the first being in March and the second being in July. This is the third one and this is by far the worst one. When the Department of Public Health is overwhelmed, they may not investigate until it is five, seven, or even 10 cases. The definition of an outbreak is still three,” Kuo said.

Outside of schools, close contacts of those confirmed to have been infected with the coronavirus are quarantined. Within schools, out of “an abundance of caution,” Kuo said, entire cohorts may be quarantined. Other students outside a potentially infected cohort may continue going to school. But if there are three or more cases at a school, or when at least five percent of the total number of students, teachers, or staff cases are within a 14-day period, the entire school may close again. 

I think at this point, it’s hard to say what the future will hold, but it is promising to know that more people are going to be able to receive the vaccine and receive it soon, because that’s going to be a turning point in reopening lots of different things, schools, businesses and the community at large,” Steward said.