News in brief: School mandates booster vaccine

Emily Salzhauer, Staff Writer

The school will mandate the COVID-19 booster shot for all eligible students, faculty, and staff following the CDC’s approval of the Pfizer booster shot for ages 16 to 17, Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly wrote in the weekly update to the community on December 12.

All eligible members of the community must have their booster shot by February 1 in accordance with the school’s revised Mandatory COVID-19 Vaccination Policy, which will be sent out today, Kelly wrote. The school will offer booster shots on campus on January 5, he wrote.

Kelly chose to mandate the booster shot because the newest research shows that the antibodies that fight COVID-19 and the Omicron variant decline at around six months for most people, he wrote in an email. “As such, and given the number of breakthrough cases we continue to see, the need to mandate the Pfizer booster shot for those eligible (students and employees) was in the best interest of the greater Horace Mann School community.”

Kelly hopes that the booster shot will slow the spread of COVID-19 within the community. Given that the positive cases at the school jumped from 5 to 23 this week alone, the booster shots will hopefully provide more protection for the whole community once we return from break. “Ideally, a herd of booster-vaccinated students and employees should slow the spread of the virus as well as stifle breakthrough cases,” he said. “I realize that we’ve been told just that before, but remain hopeful that we’re heading in the right direction as a nation.”

It is important for the community to be as protected as possible, Kelly wrote. “Based on the research available and the reality of what we’re seeing, I see very little downside with mandating the booster shot to those who have already been fully vaccinated.”

Kelly made this decision with the help of the local department of health, the most recent data, and members of the community who work in the medical field, he wrote. 

Ahana Nayar (11) planned to get the booster shot before the break, regardless of the mandate, as her family will be going away, she said. “My family and I think it’s best to get the booster shot just to be extra safe,” she said. Nayar got her booster shot on Wednesday after school.

Maya Westra (11) looks forward to getting her booster shot next week, the earliest appointment she could find, she said. “After seeing the CDC’s guidance, I wanted to get the booster shot to protect myself and the people around me.”

Upper Division (UD) science teacher George Epstein received his booster shot last Friday at a Walgreens, he said. “I felt that it was the right thing to do, especially given rising case numbers,” he said. “The holiday season is approaching [and] I want to spend time with family and feel like I am taking all of the precautions to make sure that I can do that.” Epstein planned to get the booster even before the mandate.

To receive one of the school’s doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot on January 5, students and faculty must sign up using the link sent in the weekly email, Kelly wrote. The doses will be available to anyone on a first-come, first-serve basis. Younger students will also be able to get their second dose for the Pfizer vaccine on campus on the same day, he wrote.

The school’s protocols will not change with the addition of the booster shot, Kelly wrote. “That said, if the CDC or our local health department changes its recommendations/mandates we will follow suit.”