As a condition to returning in-person this fall, Wellesley College required full vaccination for all students, faculty and staff living or working on campus, allowing for religious or medical exemptions. In a message to the Wellesley College community on Sept. 10, President Paula A. Johnson celebrated Wellesley’s vaccination rate of 99%. Additionally, since the start of the semester there have only been seven positive COVID-19 cases. Johnson also shared Wellesley’s intention to require booster vaccinations to students, faculty and staff once they are available.
“I feel like the decision to be vaccinated should have been up to the students,” Bellen Wong ’24 remarked. “Although I understand that the decision to mandate full vaccination was supposed to be in our best interest.”
In general, she has noticed greater leniency and relaxed treatment towards COVID-19 health and safety protocols, though she is unsure if that is the result of widespread vaccination.
Early on Sept. 4, 2021, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, signed off on a recommendation for booster shots of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to persons 65 years and older and those with greater risk for severe outcomes or occupational exposure. The endorsement marked a significant milestone in the White House’s vaccination campaign.
These booster shots have been identified by the scientific community as a tool to protect high-risk groups, including the elderly and immunocompromised, against severe symptoms or hospitalization. Booster shots function by triggering the multiplication of antibody-producing cells, elevating the level of antibodies that fight against dangerous pathogens.
The leading scientists have not yet identified how necessary COVID-19 booster shots are for people who are not over 65 years old, or 50-64 years old with pre-existing medical conditions. There are concerns that administering boosters to people outside of these groups will divert doses away from those who critically need them on a global scale. In late August, Director-General of the World Health Organization Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus identified the stark inequality between poorer nations and nations with advanced vaccination programs, calling this disparity a “vaccine injustice.”
While researchers continue to monitor data from countries with advanced vaccination campaigns to identify any signs of waning immunity, booster shots could prolong protective immunity and can be modified to protect against emerging variants of the coronavirus.
Wong expressed her skepticism towards mandating booster shots for Wellesley students.
“We are all already vaccinated, and there is no evidence that booster shots are necessary for healthy, young people,” Wong said.
Rather than distributing booster shots to populations who are not in critical need of them, Wong suggested that the US share doses with nations who have less advanced vaccination campaigns. While the US has already donated 160 million doses to lower-income countries, earlier this month President Biden committed to donating three shots internationally for every shot administered in the United States.
However, Juliana Barriere ’24 expressed concern for students on campus who may be immunocompromised.
“While things have somewhat returned to how they were before the pandemic, for some people the danger hasn’t gone away as much,” Barriere said.
She also noticed that with the success of vaccination efforts has come a more relaxed attitude towards following mask protocols and other health and safety guidelines.
“Booster shots provide, literally, that extra boost for people who need it,” she said.
Nearly one million fully vaccinated people in the United States have received an additional dose or booster of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. To further the battle against the spread of COVID-19, the White House will continue to implement its plan to provide free and widely accessible booster shots to an increasing number of Americans.