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Harvard Faculty Discuss Vaccine Rollout on Campus, Potential for In-Person Learning Experiences

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Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen said during a faculty meeting Tuesday that the University has nearly completed vaccinating all Harvard affiliates eligible to receive the Covid-19 vaccine in Phase One of Massachusetts’ distribution plan.

Harvard is prepared to begin Phase Two vaccinations — which include individuals ages 75 and older, per state guidelines — once the University receives more shipments of the vaccine from the state, Nguyen said.

“There is some level of communication with the state, but we have not been able to get as much detail from them as we would like,” Nguyen said. “But I know that in recent communication with them, they could not give as much vaccines as they would like to give.”

Nguyen said during the meeting that the University is primarily distributing Moderna vaccines at this time, but it is prepared to receive Pfizer vaccines, which could be stored in ultra-cold freezer space at the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Nguyen also said he would be comfortable distributing other vaccines as well, including those manufactured by Novavax or Johnson and Johnson.

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“The vast majority of flu shots are only 40 to 60 percent effective,” Nguyen said. “So if we look at those other vaccines, it’s still really effective and I would be pleased with any of them.”

Nguyen also said HUHS has settled on two or three locations it is "likely" to use for large-scale immunization. Vaccinations will likely continue to require scheduled appointments throughout the entire rollout to prevent waste, he added.

“Every time we open a vial, we have to use every last drop,” Nguyen said.

Though the United States has prioritized the vaccination of high-risk individuals, University Provost Alan M. Garber ’76 said at the meeting that people's refusal to get the vaccine impedes nationwide inoculation efforts.

“There was only a 60 percent acceptance rate among healthcare workers,” Garber said, referring to vaccine acceptance by workers at university-affiliated hospitals across the country. “It’s very important when you are offered the vaccine, and people you work with are offered the vaccine, to encourage them to accept it.”

Garber also said Harvard currently does not have a timeline for lifting the travel restrictions it imposed as a result of the pandemic.

“It might be premature to talk about ‘when,’ when we don’t yet know what the status of vaccine distribution will be,” he said.

Although the University’s vaccine distribution plan is now underway, Nguyen said Harvard affiliates must continue to adhere to public health guidelines such as masking, social distancing, and handwashing.

Nguyen commended undergraduate students who returned to campus this spring for their diligence in following public health guidelines prior to arrival, citing only nine positive cases within the student move-in group.

“We were prepared for a lot more, but we were pleased,” Nguyen said. “That was a testament to the students being really careful in the weeks before move-in.”

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Dean Emma Dench presented a report by GSAS’s “Scholarship Restart” task force, which has been working since the fall semester to improve resources available to graduate students. In the fall, the task force received survey responses from nearly half of all GSAS students.

“It won’t be a surprise to anybody here that graduate students are unfortunately facing delays in their academic progress,” Dench said.

Graduate students expressed a need for quiet spaces on campus and access to printers, among other requests, according to Dench. GSAS administrators plan to work over the coming weeks to expand access.

Faculty of Arts and Sciences Dean Claudine Gay, who also addressed faculty on Tuesday, said the Office of Undergraduate Education remains on track to pilot some limited in-person teaching during the spring semester. According to Gay, these “experiments” with in-person learning — primarily for courses with laboratory, interactive lecture, or seminar components — will serve as preparation for fall 2021, when public health guidelines related to Covid-19 may still be in place.

Faculty have until Feb. 12 to notify the OUE of their intent to participate in the pilot.

“We have to prepare for the possibility, however unlikely, that some public health restrictions would still be in place in the fall,” Gay said. “For that, we need to start the process now of how to do that safely and effectively.”

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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