14 Jul 2021

Vaccinations at HBS: Q+A with Cara Sterling


by Shona Simkin

With last week’s email from Harvard University Health Service’s Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen, and the recent data from the HBS vaccine poll, we sat down with HBS re-entry team member Cara Sterling, director of the Health Care Initiative and managing director of administrative and educational affairs, to ask about the poll and changes to COVID protocols.

Last week’s message outlined new guidance and protocols for vaccinated and un-vaccinated members of the Harvard community. What among those stood out for you, and why?

There are several important changes to the University’s guidance now, and more expected before fall. Most notably, six-foot distancing is no longer required indoors or out for vaccinated people. This will allow us to get back into the classroom and offices in a meaningful way. It is also notable that masks continue to be required indoors for all people regardless of vaccine status.

It’s important to note that one of the most meaningful data points for the University’s decision-making is the vaccine status of the community. The deadline for reporting your status—even if you’ve just had one of two doses—is tomorrow, July 15. Please, please do that via the Harvard University Health Services patient portal.

What were the results from the HBS vaccine poll, and why did HBS conduct the poll?

As of late June, we had a 64 percent response rate, and our staff, faculty and doctoral students report that they are 93 percent vaccinated with another four percent “in process” because they haven’t had two shots yet or it had not yet been two weeks after their second vaccine. So that's amazing—we’re a highly vaccinated community. That’s significantly higher than MA overall, which, as of June 29, is the second most vaccinated state in the country, at 61 percent.

We ran the poll because wanted to get a snapshot of the HBS community’s vaccine rate. We had heard anecdotally that a lot of people were vaccinated, and we wanted some data to back it up. We decided to make the survey anonymous because we know some people are hesitant to provide their personal status and we wanted as many responses as possible. We sent it to staff, faculty, and doctoral students on campus. The folks in the Life Lab and our contracted dining and custodial services staff were also surveyed.

Will that data be used to determine additional, or different, protocol for the fall, when more of the community will be back on campus?

No, this data represents a point-in-time snapshot of where we are at HBS vaccine-wise. As we transition back to working on campus, we wanted everyone to have a sense of overall numbers in our community and to feel reassured. We’re really excited to have more of our community back in the fall. We’re planning for in-person classes, with very few exceptions. It may not be fully back to what we once considered normal, but it will be much closer.

Will the protocols change further?

The University will determine any additional changes and we’ll follow them, as we are currently. The email stated that as more of our community becomes fully vaccinated, the expectation is that there will be further revisiting, and possible relaxing, of restrictions such as the mask mandate.

What role will the re-entry team play going forward, as the campus gets to a new normal?

I think we will continue to be an advisory body to the Dean's Office, the University, and to individual departments making decisions. For example, we recently spent a lot of time talking with Executive Education as they ramp up in-person programs. There are the broad guidelines from the University, but when you drill down there are a lot of detailed decisions to make, and we're a thought partner for them.

What do you most want to convey to the community as we look towards the fall?

Just how excited we are to have folks back, and that we will let people know about policy and protocol changes as soon as we can. Everyone’s situation is different and concerns are valid. We want everyone to talk with their managers and figure out what is right for them, but overall, we're a highly vaccinated community, and I hope that provides some security. Harvard has been very conservative in their approach throughout the pandemic, and that makes me feel confident.

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