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Harvard Prepares to Expand Covid-19 Vaccination Program to Higher-Risk Affiliates

Harvard is preparing to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to affiliates who are at a higher risk of complications from Covid-19.
Harvard is preparing to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to affiliates who are at a higher risk of complications from Covid-19. By Shera S. Avi-Yonah
By Claire H. Guo, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard is compiling lists of affiliates at increased risk of Covid-19 complications to prioritize for vaccination as it prepares to expand its in-house vaccination program.

The University received its first shipment of Covid-19 vaccines on Dec. 23 after being approved by Massachusetts to be a provider for the statewide vaccination program, Harvard University Health Services Director Giang T. Nguyen said in a Tuesday interview with the Harvard Gazette, a University-run publication.

The first shipment included 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine and another recent shipment included 300 more doses, per Nguyen.

In accordance with state public health guidelines, Harvard allocated the initial vaccine shipments to healthcare workers at its affiliated hospitals most likely exposed to Covid-19. That category includes physicians, nurses, support staff, housekeeping staff at HUHS Urgent Care. Patient-facing Harvard Medical School students and Harvard Dental School affiliates who provide emergency dental services were also vaccinated in Phase One, Nguyen told the Gazette.

Harvard has begun to vaccinate non-Covid-facing healthcare workers, who are also included in Phase One of Massachusetts’ vaccination distribution timeline. Harvard’s police officers, who qualify under Phase One as first responders, will be vaccinated by the City of Cambridge, Nguyen said.

Under the state guidelines, individuals with high risk factors as well as those aged 75 and older will receive vaccination priority in Phase Two, predicted to begin in February.

In an email sent to HUHS patients Wednesday, HUHS Chief Medical Officer Soheyla D. Gharib wrote that HUHS is creating lists of higher-risk patients to prioritize for vaccination.

“Our team will contact you when it is your turn to get the vaccine, depending on your risk factors,” Gharib wrote. “The vaccine is safe and we are encouraging our patients to receive it.”

The vaccine will be available for the general public in Phase 3, which Massachusetts estimates will begin in April. Harvard plans to make the vaccine available to the “entire campus community” and will notify employees and students of availability through their department or school, Nguyen said in the interview.

“My hope is that we can get to Phase 3 as early as possible, but we want to make sure that the people who are at greatest risk for complications from COVID-19 are getting our attention first,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen also addressed the new leadership in Washington D.C. and said that vaccine distribution may “change dramatically” under the administration of President Joe Biden.

The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines come in two doses and are about 95 percent effective in preventing Covid-19 infection. Still, Nguyen said people who receive the vaccine should continue to follow mask-wearing and social-distancing guidelines to account for the remaining five percent chance and because it is unclear whether vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus.

Nguyen, who described the Covid-19 vaccines as “safe and effective,” urged everyone to get the vaccine when they are available.

“I would absolutely encourage everyone who is eligible to be vaccinated to take advantage of that opportunity. This is the first major large-scale approach that is available to us to stem the tide of this pandemic,” Nguyen told the Gazette. “The success of this approach, however, depends on how many people get vaccinated.”

“The sooner we have enough people vaccinated in our communities, the sooner we can also start to see life return closer to normal,” he added.

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

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