Harvard waives Covid-19 booster requirement after US public health emergency ends | News

Harvard University Health Services Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen announced Monday that Harvard affiliates will no longer be required to receive Covid-19 boosters, although students will be required to provide proof of initial vaccination.

The university’s policy change was announced before the May 11 expiration of the United States public health emergency Covid-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention characterized community levels of Covid-19 as “low” and transmission levels as “moderate” in Cambridge.

According to the Cambridge Covid-19 Data Centre, which is due to stop updates on May 11, the city has seen around 75 new confirmed cases of the virus in the past 30 days – although the data is limited to positive PCR tests, while testing has fallen sharply after the height of the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Human Services website states that the fight against Covid-19 “remains a public health priority” but that “we can move far beyond the emergency phase.”

After May 11, the CDC will no longer collect or publish data on the number of positive Covid-19 cases or positivity rates at the county level, as laboratories will no longer be required to report those numbers. In addition, health insurance companies will no longer be required to provide free tests for Covid-19.

The government will still provide free vaccines, and people at higher risk can still get Paxlovid for free from their healthcare provider, pharmacist or the government.

Harvard will also remove its proof-of-vaccination requirement for new hires, although HUHS employees and other university health workers will still have to follow CDC recommendations for staying up-to-date on vaccinations.

“I encourage all community members to follow CDC vaccination guidelines,” Nguyen wrote. “Thank you for continuing to diligently follow public health guidelines as they have evolved over the past several years.”

The end of Harvard’s requirement for a Covid-19 booster is the latest in a series of pandemic restrictions and protocols to be lifted, with the university retiring its contact tracing team and Crimson Clear app in December 2022 — a move that which drew mixed reactions from students. Harvard previously ended its Covid-19 testing requirement for affiliates in April 2022.

A HUHS spokesperson wrote that Harvard’s student health insurance plan will continue to provide eight free rapid tests per month until the end of 2023. It is unclear whether students on the plan will be able to receive tests after this year.

Employees enrolled in a Harvard health plan through Blue Cross Blue Shield or the Harvard University Group Health Plan will be able to receive only four tests per month through their insurance starting in July.

In the email, Nguyen encouraged Harvard affiliates to consider those at higher risk.

“Vigilance remains important even for lower-risk vaccinated individuals as long as COVID remains a problem,” he wrote.

Nguyen noted that people 65 and older and those with weakened immune systems can now get an extra bivalent booster. Harvard affiliates who qualify for the booster can get it at a pharmacy or from HUHS.

He also urged caution ahead of Harvard’s 2023 Commencement events, recommending attendees get a quick test before activities and not attend if experiencing symptoms of Covid-19.

“As we have done during the pandemic, we will continue to monitor and adjust our guidance as necessary,” he added.

— Staff writer Alexander I. Fung can be reached at [email protected].

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