Pandemic Reading: TIS Starts Vaccination of faculty!

My wife Nadia and I in the lobby of TIC relieved to be vaccinated with our first dose of Covishield!

This week we were able to secure through the World Health Organization (WHO) COVAX program, COVID vaccinations for all 170 of our employees. 95% of the expatriate faculty took advantage of the opportunity but 5% of the Uzbek faculty/staff did. There was a lot of skepticism about the Oxford – AstraZeneca vaccine here in Uzbekistan because of the reports of very rare blood clots and lots of informal information going through social media channels here. Many locals are taking a wait-and-see approach or waiting for the more trusted (in this region) Sputnik V. I was disappointed as the only way I see TIS getting back to offering our full range of educational opportunities is through 100% vaccination of employees, parents and eventually students. Our sister organization the Tashkent International Clinic really came through for the school and supported procuring the vaccines and making sure it was done safely. Thank you TIC!!!

Despite the locals at this time not wanting the vaccine, we will eventually reach the situation where the adults in our society are vaccinated but children are not vaccinated. In my family, my wife and I were vaccinated as well as our 18-year-old son. My 16-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter are not vaccinated. 16-year old people and above are eligible right now for the Pfizer vaccine and in several weeks, 12-year-olds to 15-year-olds will be eligible. It will take a long time for everyone age 12 and above to be vaccinated and we’ll be in this stage of children unprotected. This will be the next unprecedented situation that we’ll have to deal with. What happens when adults are vaccinated and children are not vaccinated?

It makes sense to start vaccinated the elderly. Children are 8,700 times less at risk to die from COVID than people over 85 years old. And when the number of COVID cases is low in the community, the risk of dying from COVID is comparable to the risk of dying from influenza for children.

All of these concerns could come to a head in schools, which are one of the main places where unvaccinated people—e.g., kids—will congregate. As the U.S. is already seeing, school outbreaks do happen, but they can be contained with precautions in place. This means younger kids, who likely won’t get vaccinated before the fall, may have to continue to wear masks indoors. But the benefits of in-person schooling are significant enough, experts told me, that schools should open even if kids can’t get shots yet.

Zhang, Sarah “We Are Turning COVID-19 into a Young Person’s Disease” The Atlantic April 21, 2021

What makes next school year even more uncertain is how much the virus will be circulating in the community. If there is a high percentage of the people vaccinated combined with many former cases with immunity, how much will COVID be able to be transmitted? The situation here in Tashkent will depend on how much Uzbeks buy into the idea of vaccination. I sense they fear side effects from the vaccine more than contracting COVID-19. How to convince large numbers of people to take the vaccine? The other factor to reach herd immunity is how many people here have already had COVID? I’ve heard up to 30% of Uzbekistan has been infected, but difficult to prove without good data. And how long will their immunity last?

The pandemic has taught me that people have a wide range of risk tolerance. I naturally side on being risk tolerant because I look at the statistics. We were lucky that this particular virus was not like previous viruses (MERS, SARS) and had a very low mortality rate. Howver, other cultures and individuals look at it differently and can be extremely risk-adverse. In our TIS community, this broad spectrum of risk tolerance plays itself out all the time. I receive pleas from families from both sides, urging me to close school and move to virtual and others preferring us to stay face-to-face no matter the number of cases. The New York Times has an online Risk Calculator to help people think about what activities they are comfortable doing.

The most thought-provoking article from my weekend reading is David Leonhart’s opinion piece in the New York Times. He challenges parents to weigh the risks of keeping children isolated versus sending them to school. Their mental/emotional/physical health is greatly improved by attending school daily versus keeping them from catching the coronavirus. The risk from COVID is much less in a world where the adults are mostly vaccinated. There is no doubt that the pandemic has been bad for people over 50 years old and especially for those over age 65. However, COVID kills fewer children than seasonal influenza. Bigger risks to children are vehicle accidents (5x) and drowning (2x). Water and cars are more dangerous to children than COVID. The share of 3 million COVID deaths worldwide of among people under 25 is 0.1%. This tells me that keeping children at home in a mostly vaccinated community doesn’t make sense. In looking at the rates of risk, I think schools should keep the morning temperature checks and screen for flu-like symptoms, especially during the cold and flu season. The statistics also tell me that learning how to swim and drive safely are important for young people.

But Covid’s effect on children has been fundamentally different from its effect on adults. For children, Covid looks much more like the kind of risk that society has long tolerated, without upending daily life. “For the average kid, Covid is a negligible risk,” Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, told me. Dr. Richterman added that he would not upend his family’s life to avoid every possible exposure to children

Leonhardt, David “What to do When the Kids are Still Unvaccinated?” New York Times April 22, 2021

Regarding the local pandemic situation, as you can see below, cases are climbing in Uzbekistan. Six of the past seven days in Tashkent over 200 cases were officially registered. Numbers are nearing what we had when we first re-opened the campus in early October. I am concerned that we’ll reach the spikes we had in September and July 2020.

Uzbekistan Situation Report – April 22, 2021 World Health Organization

To end this post, I see universities in America are requiring all employees and teachers to be vaccinated. This makes sense when they are living together in close proximity. I can see K-12 schools, especially international schools moving to this policy. As I wrote earlier, the only way for schools to get back to normal is for full vaccination coverage. The path out of this pandemic is quite clear.

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