The light at the end of the tunnel: The COVID-19 vaccine at Yale
A recap of COVID-19 vaccine policy, distribution and research at Yale.
Regina Sung, photo editor
In an email sent on March 10, 2020, University President Peter Salovey told all Yale students to remain home after spring recess through at least April 5. It was over a year later when students fully returned to campus, for the fall semester of the 2021-2022 academic year. Many credit the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine — on which significant research was done on campus — for Yale’s full return.
The University issued the first vaccine mandate in April 2021, when Salovey and University Provost Scott Strobel announced that COVID-19 vaccinations were required for all Yale undergraduate, graduate and professional school students starting that summer. They explained that “reasonable” accommodations would be made for students, faculty and staff with medical or religious exemptions. Furthermore, they said that a contingency plan would be in place for students who would be unable to receive the vaccine until they arrived in the fall.
Soon after in May 2021, Salovey and Strobel announced that all faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate trainees would be required to be fully vaccinated by Aug. 1, 2021. They explained that the requirement of employees to be vaccinated was significantly more complex than the student requirement. According to Strobel, this was because Yale had to balance the legal questions surrounding personal choice and employee compliance with its responsibility to community health and well-being as an employer.
The announcement said that on Aug. 1, staff would begin phasing back into on-campus work and by October 2021, Yale planned to have everyone back to working in person. Salovey and Strobel also explained that, by October, it was anticipated that 80 percent of the Yale community would be vaccinated. This expectation was exceeded by October 2021 — 99.5 percent of Yale undergraduates were vaccinated, which gave Yale the second-highest vaccination rate in the Ivy League.
In January 2021, despite Connecticut receiving fewer vaccine doses than anticipated, the Yale-New Haven Health system began opening 12 public coronavirus vaccination sites across Connecticut. People who qualified for vaccination at the time — those over the age of 75 — could begin receiving the vaccine.
On March 29, 2021, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont announced that 16- to 45-year-olds would be eligible to make vaccine appointments starting that Thursday, April 1. Many Yale students faced extreme difficulty when attempting to make a vaccination appointment due to limited appointment availability.
On April 16, 2021, Chief of Student Health Christine Chen announced that Connecticut and YNNHS had allocated a supply of Pfizer vaccines to the Yale COVID-19 Vaccination Program. Chen’s announcement came a few days prior to Salovey and Strobel’s announcement that vaccines would be required for all students for the fall 2021 semester. By April 16, nearly 60 percent of Yale students and more than 60 percent of faculty and staff had either received the first dose of the vaccine or made an appointment for their first dose. Clinics were established to ensure that all students on campus would be able to receive the vaccine before May 19, the end of the spring 2021 semester.
The clinics were held on April 21, April 23, April 24 and April 28, and corresponding clinics were held 21 days after each date for students to receive their second dose. Nanci Fortgang, director of the Yale Vaccine Program, told the News that 1000 vaccines could easily be administered per clinic.
By September 2021, 99 percent of undergraduates, 98 percent of graduate and professional students, 93 percent of faculty and 92 percent of staff were vaccinated.
Despite high vaccination rates, cases began to increase as the fall 2021 semester progressed due to the development of other COVID-19 variants, particularly Delta and Omicron. In December 2021, University COVID-19 Coordinator Stephanie Spangler announced that all students eligible for the COVID-19 booster would be required to receive it before returning for the spring 2022 term.
Vaccines made the return to Yale possible, and many Yale researchers contributed to the testing of the vaccine and analyzed its development.
The Yale School of Medicine, the Yale Center for Clinical Investigation, or YCCI, and Yale-New Haven Health contributed to the Phase 3 clinical trials of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine as one of 150 global clinical testing locations. YCCI’s Cultural Ambassadors program was of particular importance in ensuring that Black and Hispanic populations played a significant role in vaccine development. More than 40 percent of YCCI’s clinical trial participants for the COVID-19 vaccine were people of color.
In the Iwasaki lab at Yale, a COVID-19 nasal vaccine was developed. In January 2022, the lab published a study showing promising results in mice. Researchers at the Yale School of Public Health modeled how increasing rates of vaccination can prevent future deaths and hospitalizations. Other Yale researchers worked with Survivor Corps to study how vaccines affect long COVID symptoms.
Yale continues to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and keep up with the newest vaccine developments to keep the community safe and in-person. As of May 16, 2022, 99.6 percent of undergraduate students, 99.0 percent of graduate and professional students, 98.5 percent of faculty and 95.1 percent of staff at Yale are vaccinated.
The Yale School of Medicine was founded in 1810.