With the race for a COVID-19 vaccine underway, Xaverian students research the implications of this fast-tracking effort.

Astrozeneca, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, CanSino Biologics, they’re among many pharmaceutical companies racing to produce a vaccine for COVID-19, which prompted seniors at Xaverian Brothers High School to take a closer look at the process in their honors biochemistry class. They wanted to know how vaccines are made, the politics and finances behind them, and the scientific process to test them and ultimately bring them to market. With an average production timeline of 10-15 years for most vaccines, they were particularly interested to understand the condensed process taking place as pharmaceutical companies compete to be the first to market with a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We believe it’s important to incorporate real-world applications in our curriculum, and what better topic to explore during this pandemic than the scientific history of vaccines and the stages of vaccine development.” That’s according to Mr. Ryan Howard, science teacher and director of Xaverian’s X-Ploration Center. “Earlier in September, I tasked my students with researching and preparing information regarding vaccine development to present to fellow students, faculty, and administrators.” 

Over three weeks, these Xaverian seniors collaborated to research and detail the history of vaccines from smallpox to mumps and the major outbreaks in between. Additionally, students learned about the timeline for vaccine production and the research and testing process required before a vaccine is approved for broader use. They then examined the major pharmaceutical players currently vying to produce a successful COVID-19 vaccine, as well as the global financial backing these companies have secured. Students also researched the potential downfalls of fast tracking a vaccine to market.

On Tuesday, October 6, the seniors presented their research. Utilizing Zoom and the in-classroom camera and microphone, students at home and in school were able to co-present their findings seamlessly. Additionally, students from other classes within the building (and at home) were able to join the presentation, all while adhering to social distancing regulations. 

“This project speaks to the relevancy of our curriculum, which is facilitated by our knowledgeable and talented faculty, as well as the enthusiasm and motivation of our students,” says Mr. Stephen Dacey ’95, Xaverian’s Assistant Principal for Teaching and Learning. He adds, “This project showcases the inquisitiveness and creativity of our young people, who are the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and humanitarians. They are literally living what they are studying. You can't get any more of a direct application than investigating the development of a vaccine for a virus that is responsible for the ongoing global pandemic.”
A private, Catholic, college preparatory day school for boys in grades 7-12. The Boston area prep school offers a rigorous academic curriculum, a well-developed campus ministry program focused on faith, character, and leadership, and a proud athletic tradition featuring competitive Division 1 high school athletics in the Catholic Conference.