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Vaccine, Testing, and Mask Guidance Update

Dear Members of the Harvard Community,

As the spring semester moves forward, we want to share with you updates on the University’s COVID-19 vaccine availability, testing protocols, and safety and health guidance. 

Vaccine Availability and Distribution

As a provider for the Massachusetts COVID-19 Vaccine Program (MCVP), Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) has begun to administer the COVID-19 vaccine.  Following state guidance, it submits weekly requests for vaccine allocations that are based on the number of people at Harvard currently eligible to receive vaccine under the state’s phased distribution plan. However, like many other sites around the state, HUHS has received a relatively small number of doses, on an irregular schedule. Furthermore, the state recently announced that for now it will direct most of its available doses to state-run vaccination clinics. Consequently, we strongly recommend that eligible members of the Harvard community seek vaccination from all available sources, including state-run vaccination facilities, their primary care physicians, community-based sites, and pharmacies. 

To date, HUHS received 700 vaccine doses, which were administered to individuals eligible in Phase 1 of the state’s plan, including HUHS clinical staff and custodians working in the Urgent Care area, clinically active medical students and dental personnel, and staff doing COVID-facing laboratory work. As Phase 2 of the state’s plan moves forward and our vaccine supply allows, HUHS will contact eligible members of the Harvard community, including those who have a primary care physician at HUHS. Meanwhile, HUHS will continue to provide its patients with updates on HUHS vaccine supply, and eventually instructions to schedule vaccination at HUHS when available.

We anticipate that the state’s supply of vaccine will increase in the weeks and months ahead. With that in mind, we are developing plans to receive and administer larger numbers of vaccine doses should they become available. It’s important to note, however, that the majority of Harvard community members will not be eligible to receive vaccine until the state moves to Phase 3 of its plan. At this time, Phase 3 is not anticipated until April. We will continue to provide updates on the University’s Coronavirus website.

Harvard’s COVID-19 Test Results

Recently, we have received questions about the accuracy of the Color COVID-19 tests that Harvard uses, which are processed by the Broad Institute. These tests have proven to be accurate and reliable. That said, on January 25, the Broad changed its process for testing Color swabs, resulting in a more efficient and sensitive system. After 2 weeks (and with state guidance), they adjusted the interpretation thresholds used to call a test “positive” in order to improve specificity (reducing the rate of false positives). As a result of this adjustment, the Broad changed the results of tests for 26 Harvard community members obtained between January 25 and February 5 from “positive” to “invalid/inconclusive.” Aside from the 26 affected results, all other results from this time frame are unchanged. Results before and after these dates are valid and accurate.

On February 9, the Broad Institute notified all of its testing partners, including Harvard, about these changes. The Harvard contact tracing team immediately contacted affected individuals to instruct them to resubmit another test and provide personalized isolation and quarantine guidance. 

Mask Guidance

The release of recent research has prompted many questions about face mask usage at Harvard. Research has shown that masks are effective and vital to efforts to help us keep this virus under control. Even as community members receive vaccine, it remains important for everyone to continue wearing masks properly. We advise using a 2- or 3-layer fabric or disposable mask with a good fit around the edges. Masks must be worn on campus, covering the nose and mouth. Mask-free activities like eating and drinking should be limited and must be done apart from others unless they are part of your household or pod, even when others may not present symptoms. Harvard mask requirements do not apply outside of University property, but please remember that risks may be even greater off campus, where our protocols and controls are not in place. Individuals wishing to increase mask effectiveness may voluntarily double-mask by using a fabric mask on top of a procedure mask.

Remain Vigilant to Keep Harvard Healthy

We all look forward to the day when the public health risks posed by this pandemic are behind us. Widespread vaccination is critical to achieving that goal. We are committed to implementing our vaccination plan as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, vigilance is paramount, even for those who have received or will receive vaccine in the near future. The practices and protocols that have helped us limit the transmission of COVID-19 on campus are just as important in the weeks and months ahead. Wear masks properly, practice appropriate physical distancing, wash hands frequently, limit the number of people you come in contact with, adhere to travel guidelines (the prohibition on University travel still applies regardless of your vaccination status), use the Crimson Clear app any day that you will be on campus, and participate fully in the University COVID testing program that applies to you. 

Thank you again for the steps you are taking every day to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every member of our community and surrounding communities.


Alan M. Garber

Katie Lapp
Executive Vice President

Giang T. Nguyen
Executive Director, Harvard University Health Services