Harvard, Despite a 95 Percent Vaccination Rate, Returns to Remote Learning After Breakthrough Outbreak

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A view of the campus of Harvard Business School on July 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. HBS returned to remote learning for a week to curb a breakthrough outbreak on campus despite its 95 percent vaccination acceptance rate.
A view of the campus of Harvard Business School on July 8, 2020 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. HBS returned to remote learning for a week to curb a breakthrough outbreak on campus despite its 95 percent vaccination acceptance rate. (Image: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Harvard Business School (HBS) is moving all first and some second year MBA students from in person to remote learning after suffering a rash of breakthrough Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) cases in its graduate program despite an almost ubiquitous vaccination rate. 

Head of communications for HBS, Mark Cautela, told website Poets & Quants, “In recent days, we’ve seen a steady rise in breakthrough infections among our student population, despite high vaccination rates and frequent testing.”

Cautela said the school’s contact tracers have found transmission is not occurring in class or at other “academic settings” on campus, and claims that masking is providing protection.

The representative said that in response to the cluster, the school had instructed pupils to “eliminate unmasked indoor activities, limit in-person interactions with others outside their household, move all group gatherings online, and cancel group travel,” and would now be conducting thrice-weekly PCR testing.

According to the school’s COVID-19 Testing Dashboard, 96 percent of employees and 95 percent of students have accepted vaccination. The Dashboard notes its figures are based on “the number of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff, and researchers authorized to be on campus for the fall semester.”

Harvard’s Testing & Tracing website says, “All testing is done through unobserved self-swabs.” The site notes that all graduate students and undergrads living off campus must submit tests based on their vaccination status: once per week if jabbed and twice per week if not. 

According to the dashboard’s 7-day average as of Sept. 29, the school has conducted 30,591 tests, returning 48 positive cases. 33 people are classified as in quarantine and 88 people are in isolation.

The move to remote learning is scheduled to only last for the week of Sept. 27 to Oct. 3.

In a message sent to students, Harvard attributed the outbreak to “a result of numerous unmasked, indoor activities – everything from sharing an Airbnb for the weekend, to dinner gatherings in an apartment, to larger parties.”

A professor at Yale School of Management and School of Public Health, Howard Forman, admitted in a Sept. 24 tweet analyzing Harvard’s numbers that “while the vaccine is great, it is not enough,” and that “2/3 of all Harvard student cases are from HBS.”

Given Harvard’s exceptional vaccination uptake, its breakthrough outbreak punctures a significant hole in the narrative that today’s mRNA vaccines are the vanguard for returning to normal. 

On Sept. 27 during a public relations event where Joe Biden accepted his booster injection on television, the President was asked by a reporter, “How many Americans need to be vaccinated for us to get back to normal?”

Biden’s response was, “97%, 98%. I think we’ll get awful close. But I’m not the scientist. I think one thing is for certain. A quarter of the country can’t go unvaccinated and us not continue to have a problem.”

A preprint study from Israel examining tens of thousands of anonymized health records in one of the country’s four mandatory health care providers found Pfizer vaccine recipients were at 27 times greater risk of symptomatic breakthrough infection than those with immunity generated from natural exposure and recovery to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

In early September, Wall Street Journal published an article explaining that this generation of gene therapy vaccines only provide a few months of protection, similar to the yearly flu shot.

In Israel, fully vaccinated status for the country’s Green Pass vaccine passport now expires six months after the last injection, forcing citizens to accept a third booster, and possibly even a fourth or a fifth, to continue to participate in society.

  • Neil lives in Canada and writes about society and politics.