5 min read

We’re Still Running A Marathon: The Vaccine Is A Mile Marker

My last marathon was March 8, right before Covid-19 shifted our day to day lives in ways many never anticipated. Because it was my last “normal” day, I find that I’ve been using it as a metaphor (almost non-stop) throughout the pandemic and today is no different. 

Wherever your specific school is, I'll remind you that we are collectively still running a marathon. This moment reminds me of mile 12 in my last marathon. I was closer to the beginning than I was to the end, but I was running out of gas. As I approached the halfway point, thoughts ran through my mind: "What if I just hopped on the shuttle to the end?", "What about walking the next couple of miles?", "Why did I think running this was a good idea?" (note to the reader: I still haven’t answered that question). What got me through that moment was a simple lesson that I've learned from numerous coaches, advisors, and leaders over time: Look down and that's where you'll fall, but look up, and that's where you'll go.

While this is undoubtedly not as cheery as the news that’s playing out around us, I want to share with you that there’s a critical reason I’m putting this piece out. We’re collectively in “regression” -- for most, our “surge capacity” is depleted. I believe that through candor, we can take the steps (albeit one step at a time) to and through recovery. It’s important that our collective ‘hope’ be correctly placed so that as we set milestones, they’re attainable and we can celebrate success as we reach those individual mile markers. Said differently: if we get our hopes up to get vaccinated in December, it’ll really suck if we don’t get that opportunity until the Spring. 

We are probably at the halfway point in this journey, and I know how hard that is to hear. The vaccines that are being produced are phenomenal news! Whether or not the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are the ones that ultimately we receive will be dependent on the FDA, manufacturing, supply chain logistics, and more.The fact, though, that in a matter of months these companies have been able to produce a vaccine that is even remotely close to the finish line is absolutely worth celebrating. That said, I strongly encourage us to anticipate some hurdles which I’ve done my best to outline below. 

Importantly, we now know that we can do this. We know we can get through this. We know we’ve learned and we know we’re more prepared than we’ve ever been to anticipate hurdles, dig in with empathetic leadership, and lead our communities through this. Don’t forget the power you have in your own voice by reminding people that they’re showing up for our students!

The vaccine will not be “available” to all for a while. While both companies are manufacturing as quickly as they can — they have both a moral and a financial incentive to do so — there’s a lot to do when manufacturing and distributing a vaccine! We still have to figure out how to distribute it, who will administer it, who will receive it first, and oh, by the way, the FDA still has to vet and approve it. Even if these obstacles can be overcome with ease — again, as I hope they can! — these are still complications and there are still hurdles that will slow down the distribution and administration of the vaccine(s). 

Even when the vaccine is available to some, we’ll have a period of time where we must figure out how to endure a partially immune society. If you thought testing was a challenge, prepare for something similar. We’ll have to live through a time where some are “immune” to Covid-19 and others aren’t. How will we manage on campus activities, the return to education, the return to allowing visitors on campus, etc.? These are questions each school is going to have to answer individually yet again. We can anticipate potentially more leadership from our government on this (for a variety of reasons), but there are still details we’re going to have to figure out as we go. 

There’s still a ton that’s unknown about whether or who the vaccine will be distributed to. The World Health Organization has said that it’s more important to immunize some in all countries than all in one country. That’s an interesting and profound perspective. It calls into question this equity piece yet again. Dr. Fauci has compared the pandemic to a wildfire, which resonates deeply for so many in the Western part of the US and certainly for those in Australia, South America and Europe. If one part of the global forest (in those cases) is still burning, the whole forest is still at risk. 

We’ve lost trust in some of our systems. I believe wholeheartedly we will have a harder time building trust in this vaccine and the process used to arrive at it. Because of this loss of trust, we’re going to have fewer people volunteer to get the vaccine up front. Fewer people perhaps that are willing to get it even over time. Again, if one part of the forest is on fire, we’re all still at risk. 

If I sound like I’m dampening the enthusiasm for the vaccine I want to be clear: the progress we’ve made on the vaccine is PHENOMENAL news. It should (and does) give hope that there is a finish line and we can reach it. I know, though, from my last marathon that we have to be realistic about the distance to the finish line. We have to be honest with ourselves about the challenge of the final miles, and we have to continue to take these steps, small ones, big ones, as we approach that incredible finish line. 

Make no mistake, we will get to the finish line. And, I hope that you’ll keep the finish line in mind as we battle these next “hills” (to stay in the marathon metaphor). 

So, what now?

  • I challenge us, though, to look up and recognize that when this marathon comes to an end, we will have a unique opportunity to build our future systems, models, and structures in a way that is mindful of pandemics and other emergencies that may face us.
  • Tell the story of how we will make progress toward building a community that is safer and more resilient than it's ever been, and we'll do that because we hunkered in today, we 'followed the rules', and we led with empathy.
  • Begin vaccination education now. The faster people get through the emotional/psychological hurdles of a new vaccine, the faster they'll get vaccinated. Get ahead of that by establishing your Health Leader as a go to resource for knowledge and confidence building (do this today around "following the rules" and organically, they can shift into a vaccine confidence builder over the next few weeks and months).
  • Temper our enthusiasm for the timeline at which we’ll reach the finish line. 
  • Remind faculty, staff, students, and parents, that while we’re incredibly excited, we still have some miles left in this journey. Don’t let them experience a loss of hope simply because the vaccine didn’t show up for them and the entire world in January. 
  • Keep caring for yourself, reminding your community to care for themselves. 
  • Keep the focus on following the rules, because these rules will remain for a while yet: batch, monitor, reduce time & exposure. 
  • Keep leading with empathy and acknowledging the “two (or more) camps” that are within your community. Some think we’re doing too much. Some think we’re not doing enough. 
  •  Let data speak for itself: What has on campus transmission looked like? Across our schools in the US, on campus transmission has been incredibly low and that’s something to be proud of. 
  • Remember the lessons we’ve learned throughout the pandemic and keep them in the front of our minds. 

We will reach the finish line. I’m even more sure now because of the progress we’ve made in so many areas including a vaccine. I’m hopeful that we can keep our collective feet moving throughout the remaining parts of this journey. 

Our team will continue to support you as you navigate the course. Think of us as aid stations. We’ll have guidance, support, and do our best to give you a boost of energy along the way.

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