COVID-19 Vaccine Updates: Third Dose, Mask Mandate, Children Trials

As of right now, daily deaths from COVID-19 are averaging at about 1,900 a day. Cases have started to fall from their highs in September but there is fear that the situation could worsen in the winter months when colder weather drives people inside. 

COVID-19 vaccine booster shots are now available for Pfizer-BioNTech recipients who completed their initial series over 6 months ago. Booster shots come after the first dose of Johnson and Johnson, and the second of Pfizer and Moderna. The protection of the first dose wears down over time so it is likely that most of the population will receive the booster within the next year. The immediate recipients include the 65+ population, 50–64 year olds with underlying medical conditions, or those 18 years and older who live in long-term care settings. 

“My mom got the booster shot because she is a teacher,” says senior Deena Habash. “I’m thankful they considered life situations in addition to pre existing conditions.”

The CDC now suggests that there is a link between mental illness and the level of impact from COVID-19. One study that analyzed data from seven countries found that individuals with schizophrenia were the second-likeliest group to die of COVID-19, after the elderly. This change means those with mood disorders, including depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia spectrum disorders should get vaccinated, take safety measures, such as social distancing, handwashing, and masking. Those diagnosed with a mental disorder are now eligible for booster shots. Advocates of mental health have expressed the importance of this as it is validating that mental illness is in fact real. 

“Mental illness is an issue for so many people at Blake,” says senior Victoria Caplan. “I hope this may start another branch of conversation about the value of being able to be diagnosed at a young age.”

“This is a population that is really, really at risk due to the way that COVID-19 interacts with the diagnoses,” says Lisa Dailey, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center. “Until the CDC put this group of disorders on their list, they would not have known that.”

The delta variant of the virus has recently hit the United States after doing a significant amount of damage in other countries. The highly contagious variant has brought up the death toll by 100,000 in 3 and a half months, from 600,000 to 700,000. The effectiveness after one dose of the vaccine was significantly lower for those with the delta variant. There should not be too much concern as modest differences in vaccine effectiveness were noted with the delta variant as compared with the original variant after the receipt of two vaccine doses. 

The indoor mask mandate has been lifted in Montgomery County. As the winter months approach, the number of people indoors will increase significantly, leaving many wondering how this will impact the virus. However, the mask mandate will remain in Montgomery County Public schools. Elementary aged children are not currently eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine so lifting this mandate would have put both the kids and their families at risk. There has been a motion by the Maryland School Board to reconsider MCPS’s decision in December of this year. 

“I feel like the mask mandate should be lifted when COVID-19 cases are lower,” says junior Darius Cameron. “It is a really weird time to lift the indoor aspect, seeing as the reason fewer people got a cold last year was due to masks.”

Vaccine trials for children aged 5-11 have begun and Maryland is starting to outline their approach to another mass vaccination. An FDA advisory committee reviewed data from a clinical trial testing a low-dose version of the vaccine made by Pfizer and BioNTech on children in that age group—and voted nearly unanimously to recommend that the FDA grant the shot emergency approval. This is the largest group of unvaccinated people across the country, and also the largest unmasked group. Luckily, the majority of children face minor symptoms from COVID-19, but this will lift some of the concerns about spreading the virus. There has been a large backlash from concerned anti-vaxxers, many of whom have taken to the courts and streets in protest. However, it is unlikely that this will have a large impact on the state’s decision. 

“Children have already had a great deal of exposure to the virus, and have been able to bounce back, generally speaking,” says science teacher Sophia McMaster. “I think it is a good idea to have a vaccination option so parents can assess their children’s health. The more options the better.”

The CDC and other organizations are working diligently to combat this virus. Everyone must do their part to continue progressing out of the pandemic.