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Vaccine Supply at Harvard Will Remain Scarce Until April, Health Services Director Says

HUHS
Shera S. Avi-Yonah

Giang T. Nguyen is the director of Harvard University Health Services.

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Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen said in a Friday interview he anticipates that state vaccine shipments will remain low through March but is “hopeful” that supplies will increase in April, in time to send students home for the summer vaccinated.

Since December, when HUHS began vaccinations, Harvard has submitted weekly requests to the state asking for thousands of doses, according to Nguyen. Due to insufficient supply and a focus on larger-scale facilities, he explained, HUHS has only received 100 or 200 doses at a time.

Nguyen said he expects this trend will continue until the end of the month, though he hopes supplies will increase in April.

“I got a communication from the state just last week saying that we should basically not expect a whole lot for the rest of March, and they’re going to do their best to make sure that we have enough to give people their second doses,” he said. “I’m anticipating that when we reach April and there will be larger supplies across the Commonwealth, I’m really hopeful that the state will be able to give us a lot more vaccines.”

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As of Friday, HUHS had administered over 1,100 of the 1,300 total doses it received from the state, getting all second doses of the Covid-19 vaccine into patients’ arms on time thus far, Nguyen added. The clinic is on track to use up its vaccine supply by the end of the week.

HUHS is currently vaccinating patients who are 65 and older or have two co-morbidities, according to a Wednesday vaccine update from chief medical officer Dr. Soheyla D. Gharib. Previously, it has vaccinated clinical students and staff from the School of Dental Medicine, Covid- and patient-facing affiliates of Harvard Medical School, lab workers handling Covid specimens, the clinic’s healthcare workers, and people who clean in healthcare settings, Nguyen said.

Nguyen said he was thankful that HUHS has been able to expand its vaccination program to include older patients and employees. It has prioritized available doses based on age, beginning with those in their 90s, then to those in their 80s, then to those in their 70s, he said.

“But I would say that there are probably many thousands of people in the Harvard community who are already eligible, certainly more than we have had enough doses to administer,” Nguyen said. “I’m hopeful that many of them have been able to get shots through the state’s facilities, but I know that it's not as easy.”

Starting Thursday, March 11, K-12 educators, child care workers, and school staff became eligible to book a vaccine appointment in Massachusetts. In its latest update, HUHS directed patients in these categories to seek vaccination opportunities from all available sources to prevent longer wait times.

Although HUHS has only received the Moderna vaccine, it is prepared to store any of the three Covid-19 vaccines approved for use in the U.S., according to Nguyen. He said HUHS is not among the sites to which the Commonwealth has distributed single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

HUHS facilities are prepared to handle large-scale vaccination campaigns given their experience administering yearly influenza vaccinations and Covid tests, Nguyen said.

“If we got 1,000 doses tomorrow, we would be able to administer that within several days — we would be able to set up systems for people to go online and make appointments,” he said. “In a couple weeks, we probably would be able to vaccinate 1,000 people a day, if we had enough doses to.”

“We have the expertise and the capacity to do this — we are just waiting for the doses to come rolling in,” he added.

In his first primetime address Thursday, President Joe Biden directed all states to make adults eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine by May 1. Nguyen said HUHS would “most certainly” take part in those inoculation efforts if they have sufficient supply to vaccinate all eligible Harvard affiliates by then.

“We have a lot of students who are likely to leave the Cambridge, Boston area in late spring. And I would love to be able to send them back to their home communities protected,” he said. “That is our goal, and again, it really just depends on the availability.”

Nguyen added that a full campus return in fall 2021 is within the “realm of possibility” if everybody who returns to campus is vaccinated, although he said HUHS is not currently discussing a vaccine mandate.

“They need to get vaccinated. That is the most critical piece for us to get back to some sense of normal,” he said.

But even with a fully vaccinated campus population, he cautioned, the fall will not completely resemble a normal semester.

“It will involve, I believe, some degree of masking, some degree of testing, until we are certain that everything looks good,” he said. “I think everyone is very hopeful we’ll be able to see things more normal, and we’ll be able to bring more of us back together.”

—Staff writer Claire H. Guo can be reached at claire.guo@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @clairehguo.

—Staff writer Christine Mui can be reached at christine.mui@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @MuiChristine.

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