Good news about teen vaccines
A clinical trial found that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was highly effective in adolescents aged 12 to 15, the companies said on Wednesday. The trial found no infections among the children who received the vaccine, and the vaccines produced even stronger antibody responses in the children than they did in young adults. The children experienced no serious side effects.
If the findings hold up, young teenagers and pre-teenagers may soon be able to start rolling up their sleeves and taking selfies with their bicep Band-Aids. The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal. But they excited experts.
“Oh my god, I’m so happy to see this — this is amazing,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, told our colleague Apoorva Mandavilli.
Apoorva said, “This is truly excellent news and should make parents of adolescents and actually even parents of younger kids very happy and very optimistic.”
“We’ve known all along that we need to vaccinate kids in order to get to herd immunity,” she continued. “This news should, hopefully, convince any parents who had doubts about the vaccine’s effectiveness to get their kids immunized.”
Apoorva reported that Pfizer and BioNTech plan to request from the Food and Drug Administration an amendment to the emergency-use authorization for their vaccine, in hopes of beginning immunizations of older children before the start of the next school year.
So what exactly does this news mean for schools?
It increases the likelihood that schools, particularly middle and high schools, will look more like normal in the fall. With vaccination of adults well underway, public health experts were already saying that school districts should be planning to offer full-time in-person instruction to all students at the start of the next school year.
Still, the prospect that children 12 and older will probably have access to vaccines before the school year begins takes one more excuse off the table for districts that have hesitated to commit to offering a full-time schedule in the fall.
If many children and adolescents get vaccinated, that will also move the country closer to herd immunity, lowering infection rates.
That “if” is a big one, though. Two recent studies, neither of which has yet been peer-reviewed, found substantial vaccine hesitancy among parents. In one study, concerns about the vaccine came mostly from mothers, particularly white, Republican mothers.
“Amid the spread of both accurate information and politicized disinformation about possible side effects, many mothers feel more capable of controlling the risks of the coronavirus itself than the risks of the coronavirus vaccine,” Jessica Calarco, one of that study’s authors, wrote in an opinion piece in The Washington Post.
Part of the challenge in persuading parents to vaccinate their children is that it is currently rare for children to experience severe illness from the virus. But experts say that it is critical to vaccinate children to achieve herd immunity and to prevent new variants from emerging.
Another unanswered question is whether students will ultimately be required to be vaccinated against the coronavirus to attend school. The superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, the country’s second largest district, said in January that, when vaccines for children were available, students would be required to get them to come back to campuses; non-vaccinated students would learn remotely, he said.
But generally it is states, not districts, that decide which vaccines are required for students to attend school. Some governors have already said they will not mandate coronavirus vaccines for children. And experts say that requiring the vaccine could backfire, by creating resistance to it.
Since politically conservative areas have been more willing to open schools as normal during the pandemic, the limited vaccine uptake may not make a difference to how schools operate. But the fear is it will leave opportunities for the virus to continue spreading and mutating.
For a deeper listen: Apoorva spoke about children’s vaccines on “The Daily” last month. She’s a science reporter, and she said she’s signing her kids up for a shot as soon as she possibly can.
Texas attacks affirmative action
In 2008, a Texas high school student named Abigail Fisher accused the University of Texas at Austin of rejecting her application for admission because of her race. She is white.
Her lawsuit went all the way to the Supreme Court. In 2016, the high court found that Texas’ consideration of race to fill out the last 25 percent or so of seats in its freshman classes — after using academic standards to fill the rest — was done with a light enough touch to be permitted by the Constitution.
On Tuesday, the state of Texas revisited that case in a startling brief filed before the Supreme Court. “Abigail Fisher was right,” the brief said, pithily. “The University of Texas was wrong.”
The Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, a conservative Republican, submitted the amicus brief in support of Asian-American students accusing Harvard of being biased against them, in the case known as Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard. The Texas brief urges the Supreme Court to hear the case, which the students lost in the lower courts.
“This brief is highly aberrational,” Justin Driver, a law professor at Yale, said Tuesday. Driver, author of the book “The Schoolhouse Gate: Public Education, the Supreme Court, and the Battle for the American Mind,” called it “highly, highly unusual” for a state “to declare their own programs unconstitutional.”
Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment. But Driver pointed out that a previous state litigator had taken the opposite tack.
In 2008, James Ho, the solicitor general of Texas at the time, defended the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions policy, saying that it was exactly the kind of nuanced system that Supreme Court precedent required. The solicitor general handles Supreme Court cases for the state attorney general’s office.
Later, Ho was part of the private legal team that defended the policy before the Supreme Court in Fisher v. University of Texas. Ho was a conservative who clerked for Justice Clarence Thomas. President Trump appointed him as a judge on the Fifth Circuit, just below the Supreme Court.
The latest on how the pandemic is reshaping education.
Paxton is well known for staking out conservative positions on national issues. He led a charge to topple Obamacare, tried to overturn election results in four battleground states that President Trump lost and sued local officials for keeping a mask mandate. Some of his top aides have said he should be investigated in connection with abuse of office and bribery. Paxton said the allegations were false.
Around the country
The Supreme Court is hearing arguments on Wednesday about the N.C.A.A., as the debate about compensation for college athletes rages on Capitol Hill.
Can people immunized against the coronavirus still spread it to others? A new study of more than 12,000 vaccinated college students will seek to answer that question.
In a move aimed at relieving student loan debt exacerbated by the pandemic, the Education Department will waive college-loan rules for thousands of students who are disabled.
Two opinions from The Times: The editorial board issued a sharp rebuke against loopholes in Trump-era policies that it says allows for-profit colleges to exploit veterans. And Michelle Goldberg, a columnist, looked closely at the Republican-led push to cancel diversity programs at Idaho colleges.
Boarding schools are booming, as parents who can afford the tuition enroll their children for in-person learning.
A high school football coach in Duxbury, Mass., was fired after using anti-Semitic language with his team.
The Virginia Department of Education requires districts to accept students’ gender identities. Two conservative groups are suing over the policy.
Washington, D.C., will pay some high school students to take classes this summer, in an effort to combat learning loss because of the pandemic.
A good read from The Times: Fewer students are raising their hands to be teachers this year, part of a long-term decline in interest. Teaching programs have seen a significant drop in enrollment this year, and Teach for America said it had received fewer applications for its fall 2021 corps compared with this period last year.
“What about Penelope?”
Jessica Rosenberg, 36, has been working from home as a content strategist since the start of the pandemic. She and her husband, David, trade off so they can each parent their 2-year-old daughter and also work from home.
Now, instead of spending most of her parenting time trying to feed or bathe Penelope, Jessica gets to play with her daughter.
“Now, the play is just sprinkled throughout the day, every day,” she said. “That has been such a needed and appreciated counter to the heaviness of this year.”
Jessica knows how lucky her family is. Still, it’s been hard and unanswered questions loom with reopenings. When she sends Penelope back to child care, Jessica knows that nap time and meals won’t involve masks.
Children are at very low risk for severe illness from the virus, and with mitigation measures in place, day cares have been found to be relatively safe. But Jessica still feels like she’s flying a bit blind.
“What about Penelope?” Jessica said. “I have such questions about how to understand risks and benefits for that age range. It just feels like it is not really being talked about.”
After a year of playing only with her parents, Penelope now sees one friend. The two toddlers dig in the dirt together, getting messy, giggling. Almost as if the world around them were normal.
“Hanging out with a 36-year-old is so different from hanging out with a 2-year-old,” Jessica said. “I worry that maybe life feels more serious for her than it has to now.”
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