So, How Did UVa’s Vaccine Mandate Work Out?

Confirmed COVID cases. Source: University of Virginia COVID Tracker. Arrow indicates when 238 students were disenrolled for having failed to comply with UVa’s vaccination mandate.

by James A. Bacon

Readers may recall that last August the University of Virginia “disenrolled” 238 students for not complying with the university’s COVID vaccination mandate. (Of those, 49 had enrolled at the time the decision was made. The intentions of the others were not known. Many likely had made other arrangements knowing that the mandate was in the works.)

“Our most effective tools to limit the spread of the virus within our community are vaccines and booster shots for those who have already been vaccinated,” the university explained in a vaccination update to UVa faculty and staff.

So, how did UVa’s forced vaccination policy, which extended to faculty and staff, work out?

We can get a sense from the graph above, which is taken from the University of Virginia’s COVID tracker dashboard. The arrow indicates roughly when the purge of unvaccinated students went into effect, around August 20, 2021.

The graph tells the story: there was a big bump in COVID-19 cases when students returned to the Grounds in the fall; cases fell during the fall; and then a massive, sustained surge took place when the Omicron variant took hold in the winter. All told, despite near-universal vaccination, UVa officials tallied more than 4,500 confirmed cases in the fall and spring semesters.

By early 2022 Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), proclaimed publicly what was becoming obvious to all: while vaccinations and and boosters were highly effective at protecting people from severe outcomes, they did not stop the spread of the disease. “Our vaccines are working exceptionally well,” she said on Jan. 10. “What they can’t do anymore is prevent transmission.”

But UVa stuck to its guns. The university reversed its vaccine mandate only after newly-elected Attorney General Jason Miyares issued a legal opinion Feb. 1 stating that state colleges and universities could not require the vaccine unless the General Assembly included it among mandated immunizations for the state’s higher education institutions.

UVa’s Board of Visitors, which had awarded President Jim Ryan a $200,000 bonus in September 2021, took the remarkable action in early 2022 of extending his contract, even though it was not due to expire until 2025. A key reason cited was his leadership in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.

I questioned the vaccination mandate back in August. My main concern was that the university failed to distinguish between unvaccinated individuals who had survived COVID and those who had never been exposed to the virus. My thinking was that COVID survivors acquired natural immunities, as studies in other countries had suggested, that might be as potent as the resistance provided by vaccinations, which were known to lose their potency over time. It did not occur to me that vaccinations would do so little to prevent transmission. Vaccinated individuals, it turned out, can still carry the virus in their nasal cavities.

What was abundantly clear at that time was that much of what was “known” about COVID in the early stages of the pandemic was wrong, and that the “science” was continually evolving. UVa authorities, by contrast, never wavered in their conviction that they knew best, and that they were morally justified in expelling anyone from the UVa community who did not submit to their diktats.

With the benefit of hindsight, we can look back and see that UVa’s anti-COVID regime did not prevent the spread of COVID among students, teachers and staff. One can legitimately question whether the decision to eject 238 students made any difference at all. The only thing we can say for sure is that 238 individuals were deprived of a UVa education.