MIT hosts COVID-19 vaccine webinar with Harvard and Ragon Institute

MIT is not a mass vaccination site, but ‘strongly encourages’ community members to get vaccinated

MIT hosted an Institute-wide Zoom webinar entitled “Covid-19: Vaccines and prospects for ending the evolving pandemic,” on Thursday, April 8.

The webinar was presented by members of the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), MIT and Harvard, and featured Bruce Walker, founding director of the Ragon Institute; Galit Alter, a “key player in determining the ability of Covid-19 vaccines to elicit protective immune responses”; Dan Barouch, who was “instrumental in developing the Johnson and Johnson” vaccine; and Bryan Bryson, MIT SB ’07, PhD ’13, who “collaboratively applied MIT machine learning algorithms developed for language to predict SARS-CoV-2 mutation and evolution.”

The webinar began with several mini-presentations about a variety of topics pertaining to COVID-19. Specifically, the presentations covered the basic concepts of immunity following immunization, discussed the known SARS-CoV-2 mutations, how the COVID-19 vaccine was developed so quickly, the BIDMC/Ragon/Janssen vaccine (one of three vaccines currently being developed), the timeline of information and progress surrounding a COVID-19 vaccine, what we might expect in the future from variants of COVID-19 and potential vaccinations, and how the pandemic has “changed the research community.”

After the presentations, the speakers took questions pertaining to the presentations, while MIT Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis ’90 answered questions about MIT’s vaccine planning.

During the Q&A, Stuopis was asked whether MIT would “require students and employees to receive a vaccine” prior to returning to campus in the fall.

Stuopis answered that this is a question MIT is receiving “almost daily” from the community, and that MIT had “not yet made a decision on that,” though they are “actively discussing” the possibility. Stuopis said that “from a public health perspective,” MIT “strongly encourages every member of our community to get vaccinated when they’re available,” and emphasized that “the best vaccine is the first vaccine you can get.”

Beginning April 19, individuals living, working, or studying in Massachusetts aged 16 and over will be eligible to receive the vaccine. 

Stuopis was asked whether MIT is “planning to provide the vaccine” to its community, and “if not, why not?”

She answered that MIT is “trying to be a mass vaccination site, through the parameters that have been established by the Commonwealth.” The Institute “submitted an application to do that” around “December.” She said that “shortly after we submitted our application, the Commonwealth shifted their approach in how they were thinking about vaccinating residents.”

The Commonwealth shifted their vaccinations to a few main sites, like Gillette Stadium and  Fenway Park to ensure equitable allocation of vaccines to all Commonwealth residents. She also said that MIT has been advocating “tirelessly” to become a distribution site, suggesting that people who felt hesitant or unsure of the vaccine might be more likely to take it from an institution that they would trust. 

She concluded that MIT “has not had success” with these appeals, but stated that if and when MIT is given the go-ahead, they expect to be able to “immunize thousands of” students a day, and noted that “the Johnson Athletic Center” is set up for vaccine distribution.