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Harvard Affiliates Secure Covid-19 Booster Shots Off Campus

Booster shots are now available at CVS for those who are eligible under Massachusetts state guidelines.
Booster shots are now available at CVS for those who are eligible under Massachusetts state guidelines. By Angela Dela Cruz
By Claire H. Guo and Christine Mui, Crimson Staff Writers

While Harvard University Health Services is not yet offering Covid-19 booster shots, students and other Harvard affiliates said they have secured booster shots from local pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens.

In an Oct. 28 interview, HUHS Executive Director Giang T. Nguyen said HUHS does intend on offering booster shots in the future but is now focusing on providing primary Covid-19 doses and flu shots, which Harvard students are required to receive by Dec. 10 to avoid a registration hold being placed on their account.

“[A Covid-19 booster is] not something that you have to rush out to get right now. And anyone who really is eager to do it soon can do it at a commercial pharmacy free of charge, so that is an option as well if you don’t want to wait to get a booster through HUHS,” Nguyen said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded Covid-19 booster shot eligibility on Oct. 21 to include those who initially received Pfizer or Moderna vaccines more than six months ago and are 65 years of age and older, or 18 and older while living in long-term care settings, high-risk settings, or have underlying health conditions. Anyone 18 or older at least two months out from receiving an initial Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also eligible to receive a booster shot under federal guidance.

On Thursday, Massachusetts announced that all adult residents who are six months out of receiving a Pfizer or Moderna dose are now eligible.

Zachary J. Lech ’24 said he opted for the one-shot J&J vaccine in May because he was unsure about his summer plans and worried he might not be able to get a second dose.

On Oct. 29, days after the CDC approved the mixing and matching of Covid-19 boosters, Lech received a Moderna booster. He said no appointments were available at the Cambridge Health Alliance, so he took the first one available at a Boston Walgreens location.

Lech called HUHS’s decision to not yet provide booster shots “simply ridiculous.”

“We have vaccination rates in excess of 95 percent among all the members of the Harvard community. The University insists that public health is its priority,” Lech said. “And yet, even though there is no actual demand in our community for the vaccines, except among the people who want to receive booster shots, those are not available.”

“When it comes to receiving the booster shots at other locations, Harvard students are competing with the general public, and it’s really hard to secure a date, especially if you want to get the booster shot promptly. So it’s a huge inconvenience,” he added.

Matt R. Thomas ’21, a student at the Graduate School of Education and Faculty Dean aide in Kirkland House, scheduled his Pfizer booster shot for Monday at a local Walgreens.

As a Harvard Teacher Fellow working at a local middle school, Thomas said he felt especially responsible for the people around him.

“I feel like it’s really important for me, just being around so many different people every day, to make sure that I do my part in not only keeping myself safe through the pandemic, but keeping others I come in contact with safe,” he said.

Thomas said he decided to get a booster shot “as soon as hearing that it was the recommended guidance of the CDC and that the higher scientific authorities in this country noted that it was the best way to stay safe from Covid.”

Other students said they became eligible for a booster shot because of a mental health condition. Those with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression are eligible to get any of the three boosters at least six months after their initial doses.

Though Liz C. Hoveland ’22 brought documentation for depression to her appointment at the Central Square CVS, she said she was never asked for proof of eligibility when signing up online or at the pharmacy.

The process of getting her Pfizer booster at the CVS went “so smooth,” Hoveland said, though she said it would have “been nice” if HUHS offered boosters.

“I just don’t think that there’s quite a need for them right now,” she said. “I don’t see a reason for HUHS specifically to have to do them unless they really see a demand.”

Anna, a Ph.D. student who declined to give her last name and whom The Crimson granted anonymity to discuss personal health matters, said she originally received the Sputnik V vaccine, the only available option to her while she was living in rural Russia.

Anna said she did not feel as if she had a choice as to receiving a booster, since Harvard required all affiliates to receive an FDA- or WHO-authorized vaccine, which Sputnik V is not.

Through Harvard University Health Services, Anna was vaccinated again with two doses of Pfizer. She said going through the process has “psychologically given her a sense of protection.”

In the interview earlier this month, Nguyen said Harvard does not have “any intention right now” of making Covid-19 booster shots mandatory.

Hoveland said she hopes HUHS will implement a booster shot mandate, once all affiliates become eligible.

“Ninety-six percent of the Harvard community is fully vaccinated. When boosters are released to the general public, I would love to see 96 percent of Harvard community members boosted as well,” she said.

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

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

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