Date: December 4, 2020
Subject: Public Health Update
From: Tom McLarney, MD
To the Wesleyan Community:
I hope you all had a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving, though I’m sure many of your celebrations looked quite different than usual. The holiday offered us a time to reflect on the blessings we have even during a difficult period, especially for those who have suffered hardship and significant losses during this past year.
At this point, all but about 300 students have left campus for the short time remaining in the semester; this number will drop to about 150 at the start winter recess. I had the opportunity to check in with our students who were in isolation and quarantine on Thanksgiving Day. Their positivity and gratitude to enjoy a meal and to be able to visit virtually with family was inspiring.
Speaking of positivity and gratitude, I—like everyone, I’m sure—have been feeling buoyed by all the encouraging news coming out recently about vaccines for COVID-19. It appears that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is likely to give Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to both Pfizer and Moderna for the vaccines they have developed, and that other pharmaceutical companies may not be far behind with their own vaccines. So far these vaccines boast a 90-95% efficacy (typically current vaccines for other illnesses have much lower efficacies), and appear to be safe overall with minimal side effects (such as headache, muscle aches, fever, and fatigue). If approved, these would be the first vaccines to use a synthetic messenger-RNA (mRNA) that when injected into the body “teaches” our cells to produce the spike protein that covers the SARS CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. Our immune system then identifies this as a foreign invader and produces antibodies to protect us. There is no risk in getting COVID-19 from this type of immunization.
Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to listen in on a meeting at which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) began the process of prioritization for distributing the vaccines. As you may have read in the news, they determined that phase one of vaccination would include all healthcare professionals, as well as residents of long-term care facilities, with skilled nursing homes being the highest priority. These groups comprise approximately 24 million people. By the end of December, 40 million doses of vaccine should be available, with 5 to 10 million doses produced per week thereafter. Because the vaccination series involves two injections given three weeks apart, the number of people who can be vaccinated can be calculated by cutting the numbers of doses in half.
The next priority groups will be determined in future meetings, and it is predicted that essential workers, those aged 65 and older, and those with high-risk medical conditions will be in the following phases. Young, healthy people who are neither healthcare nor essential workers—which describes most, though not all, of our students at Wesleyan—will most likely be able to get the vaccine in the spring. We are in the early stages of discussing plans related to the vaccines, and will share more information as it becomes available.
This is all great news, but it’s important that we don’t let our guard down now. In fact, cases are surging in many parts of the country and health officials are deeply concerned that travel and gatherings related to the holidays may make the situation worse. So please, continue to wear your face masks, keep your distance, and enjoy your friends and family virtually—or at least at a safe distance—for now.
In closing, I have two quick reminders for students: Any student who did not get a flu shot on campus (at campus clinics or the Davison Health Center) this fall is required to send proof that they have received a flu shot off-campus to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 20, 2021. In addition, any student who is diagnosed with COVID-19 over winter break is asked to submit their positive lab result to the Davison Health Center at email@example.com. This will assist us with managing testing for these individuals after they return to campus.
Tom McLarney, MD