The Rockefeller University
 Office of the President | April 9, 2021

Dear colleagues,

What a week! Spring is in bloom and we have had the most beautiful stretch of weather in recent memory. It has been thrilling to see people walking about or eating lunch outside and even interacting with one another outdoors (with masks and social distancing of course!). The optimistic promise of attainable normality is in the air, along with the exhortation that we need to finish the deal by all of us getting vaccinated for our collective protection.

Since my last e-mail, we have sadly endured a devastating loss: Head of Lab and Professor Mary Jeanne Kreek, M.D., an iconic member of the Rockefeller community for 57 years, passed away on March 27. She was a true pioneer in addiction research and treatment, a physician-scientist who made critical contributions to the establishment of methadone as the first medical treatment for heroin addiction, and went on to make seminal contributions to our understanding of the biology of addiction. She was supremely dedicated and fearless and was a generous mentor, a powerful advocate for her patients, and a passionate supporter of biomedical science and women scientists. She was an integral part of the University’s Women & Science initiative, and her children Esperance and Robert have asked that, in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to establish a Mary Jeanne Kreek Women & Science Fellowship at the University; please contact Marnie Imhoff or Laurel Birch, senior director of the Women & Science Initiative, for information. A secure gift to the Fellowship can be made online here: There is a virtual funeral service for Mary Jeanne this morning at 11 a.m., and we will plan an in-person event when COVID conditions allow. Also, Mary Jeanne provided an extensive series of interviews in 2017 as part of Rockefeller’s Oral History Project; I encourage you to watch the many highlights. Mary Jeanne was without question one of a kind, and we will miss her terribly, but she leaves an enduring legacy of accomplishment that her many trainees will carry forward.

Turning to the pandemic, in NYC we have been in a state of equipoise, with new cases remaining steady at a high level since the end of February (7-day averages showing ~4% positive tests, with 42-48 new cases per 100,000 population per day (which is ~8-fold higher than we had last summer). In NYC and across the nation there has been a shift in the age distribution, with more young people getting infected, with more symptomatic disease than previously. The cause for this is likely multifactorial, with contributions from the impact of variant viruses, reopening of schools, restaurants, bars, and gyms, along with the moderate but growing protection among the older population. This shift is supported by a modest but significant decline in the number of new hospital admissions in the city, down from 300 per day at the beginning of March to 260 in the last week of March. At Rockefeller, we continue to have new infections, with 14 new cases in the last two weeks, with cases skewed toward younger ages and no severe cases. There continues to be no evidence of spread of infection on campus. As previously, the high level of virus in our environment demands great care to protect yourselves, your families, and your colleagues from infection.

Across the rest of the nation, infection levels have shown a continuous radial spread from metro NYC over the last month and are now high in all neighboring counties and states and across much of the northeast. Michigan has seen an explosive rise in cases and Minnesota and parts of Illinois are seeing worrisome rises in case numbers. In contrast, much of the south has low levels and California is extremely quiet (new case numbers in San Francisco are about 10% of NYC levels, and Los Angeles, which was ablaze with cases earlier this winter, is almost as low). Thus while national new case numbers are up by ~30% over the last two weeks, the burden of new cases has not been borne evenly across the country.

On a much happier note, the national vaccination program has continued its dramatic scale-up, increasing to an average of 3 million doses per day this week, with projection that all adults could be vaccinated by the end of June. With recent strong results in clinical trials of children ages 12-16, it is also possible that everyone from middle-school age on up could be vaccinated by the start of the next school year. As of today, more than 110 million people in the US have received at least one dose of vaccine. The real-world experience has indicated that all three vaccines being administered in the U.S. are safe and highly effective. Completing vaccination confers virtually complete protection from severe disease and death from COVID. This is clearly our path out of the pandemic, and we urgently need to get everyone vaccinated as soon as possible.

Now that all adults are eligible for vaccination, we have the opportunity to really snuff out the virus on our campus and beyond. We are thus in a race with the virus and the faster we get vaccinated, the fewer targets the virus has to sustain chains of transmission, making time of the essence.

To that end, I’m thrilled to report that the COVID vaccination program we started last week with the Hospital for Special Surgery has been going extremely well. Over the last two weeks many members of the Rockefeller community have received a first dose of the vaccine, with most of these doses administered in the Kellen Biolink, which opened for vaccinations this week and in total delivered more than 1,200 vaccine doses (see photo below). There are now more than 800 members of our community who have had at least one dose of vaccine; we know these numbers do not include many who have received vaccination outside Rockefeller-sponsored programs. Please remember to report all first and second doses of the COVID-19 vaccines to OHS, whether obtained through Rockefeller or elsewhere, by emailing a photo or scan of the vaccine card to Questions about the vaccination program can also be e-mailed to that address.

I urge everyone to take advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated right away, right here on our campus. Sign up for an appointment at the earliest possible opportunity. Appointments are now available for all Rockefeller employees and also for members of your households who meet the other state criteria: at least 16 years old and live, work, or study in New York state. Schedule your household members here (VPN required). When you get vaccinated you not only protect yourself, you also help protect your family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and everyone you encounter every day. It also hastens the end to the pandemic and a return toward normality in daily life. Right now it is the most important contribution each of us can make to the collective well-being of our society. If you have been concerned about the safety of the vaccines in use in the US, more than a third of the entire adult population has now been vaccinated with not only exceptionally high safety but also remarkable protection from severe disease and death. If you’ve been holding off because you think other people need the vaccine more than you do, vaccine is available in abundance, and now is the time to roll up your sleeve.

Coming from the world’s premier institution devoted to science for the benefit of humanity, I will make an additional request of you. If you have loved ones, friends or colleagues who remain reluctant to get vaccinated, help educate them about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines, and encourage them to get signed up!

As ever, it remains important not to help the virus spread. As tempting as it seems, with the city opening up its economy, congregating indoors, particularly without masks in increasingly full restaurants or bars, and also in gyms and theaters even with a mask, are high risk activities and are helping to sustain the pandemic. I urge everyone to remain cautious, use common sense, and make good decisions about where to spend time. At Rockefeller, we have no current plans to modify COVID policies. I note, however, that in response to requests from the community, we have extended the hours during which the pedestrian bridge to Scholars is open. The pedestrian bridge will be open from 5-9 a.m. on weekdays starting on Monday. It will continue to remain open on weekdays 8 p.m.-midnight.

I’d like to take a moment this week to thank the leaders and staff of the University’s resource centers who have, over the last year plus, put in seemingly indefatigable effort to ensure that our scientists have the best and safest support possible. This has included developing innovative approaches for virtual training and implementing procedures for safe in-person training that ensured our scientists and students continued access to the expertise and advanced technologies available in the Resource Centers. These centers play a crucial role in advancing our science, and their commitment to supporting our labs throughout the past year has made it possible for our work to continue. Their work is greatly appreciated. Read more about recent resource center highlights in their 2020 annual report (VPN required).

Finally, I’d also like to draw your attention to the upcoming Lewis Thomas Prize presentation on April 20 at 5:30. The Lewis Thomas Prize recognizes scientists as inspirational authors, and this year’s prize will be awarded to evolutionary biologist and ornithologist Richard Prum. Prum’s 2017 book, The Evolution of Beauty, is a beautiful exposition about the thrill of the natural world and the inferences that can be made from careful observation coupled to original thought. His striking examples of male bird plumage, displays and behaviors lead Prum to argue that mate selection by females has been a major contributor to evolution of species, taking the understanding of evolution well beyond ‘survival of the fittest’. It is a pleasure to honor him for his ability to vividly convey the intricacy and beauty of nature, as well as his excitement in trying to understand it. Register here to virtually attend this year’s event.

Please stay safe, be well, and continue to take care of one another.


Richard P. Lifton, M.D., Ph.D.
Carson Family Professor
Laboratory of Human Genetics and Genomics
The Rockefeller University

vaccinesign (003).jpg

line oop.jpg