UVa as Petri Dish for COVID-Fighting Policy

New cases reported at the University of Virginia. Source: “UVA COVID Tracker”

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia is engaging in an interesting real-world experiment in the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine mandates. UVa’s must-vaccinate rule for students is similar to policies at almost every other university in Virginia and many employers as well. But UVa’s COVID tracker, which is updated daily, provides a finer-grained insight into what’s happening in its community of students, faculty and staff than other dashboards I’ve viewed.

Recall that one year ago, UVa relied upon a combination of testing, masking, social distancing, online classes, and quarantining to contain the spread of the virus. Three very big changes have occurred since then. First, vaccines were introduced. Second, the super-transmissible Delta mutation became the dominant COVID-19 virus in the United States. And third, UVa reinstituted in-person classes.

This academic year, UVa went “all in” on vaccinations, requiring all students (save a handful with medical or religious exemptions) to get the jab. Students who failed to comply were “unenrolled.” Faculty and staff were “strongly urged” to take the shot. As of last week, reported UVA Today, 97% of UVa students were fully vaccinated, as was 92% of the teaching and research faculty. Additionally, everyone is required to wear masks in public indoor places. The policies and protocols are much stricter than for Virginia as a whole.

How are they working out?

Well, a week after a return of students to classes, 80 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported. The seven-day moving average as of Aug. 26 this year was 7.6 new cases per day. That’s ahead of last year’s pace of 4.6 cases on Aug. 26.

Last year, the COVID virus spread rapidly in the days after Aug. 26, leading to a mini-spike in the seven-day moving average of 29.6 before settling back down for a few months, and then exploding in February.

I would be astonished if the pattern of spread this year matched that of last year. After all, we know that vaccines do work most of the time. Moreover, given the large number of of people who tested positive for the virus last year, many in the UVa community have acquired natural immunities.

Here’s what we don’t know: How fast vaccination immunity wears off. If potency declines and students don’t get boosters, UVa could see a resurgence. We also don’t know much about the efficacy of naturally acquired immunities.

UVa, which is a medical center after all, has the capability to do something that appears to be beyond the capacity of the Virginia Department of Health: Collect deeper, more granular data that allows us to answer questions that the VDH COVID database cannot.

In an ideal world, UVa’s data collectors would compile the following on each student, faculty member and staff person:

  • Date vaccinated, and with which vaccination (Pfizer, Moderna, J&J)
  • Data tested positive for COVID-19, and outcome (hospitalized, and for how long)

The purpose would be to determine how many COVID-19 cases are so-called “breakthrough” cases in which the patient has been vaccinated, and how severe the cases are. UVa then could readily determine the speed at which protection from the vaccine (and naturally acquired immunity) recedes.

Several studies have been published by credible medical institutions in Israel and the U.S. concluding that naturally acquired immunity is as effective and long-lasting as vaccine-acquired immunity. We should at least consider the possibility that COVID survivors enjoy as much protection as the vaccinated do. Current public policy (and UVa policy) assumes that only the vaccines confer meaningful protection.

Who knows — maybe a well-constructed survey would find that COVID infection + vaccine provides the most protection of all. Or maybe it will find natural immunity is superior to vaccinated immunity. We won’t know until we ask the question and construct a study. Once again, I’m struck by how little we really know. Many COVID policies are operating on auto-pilot, informed more by rigid partisan political leanings than the latest clinical findings.

COVID-19 is not going away, and we’re going to have to learn to live with it. That will require creating better information systems that allow us to answer new questions as they arise, not just this year but for the foreseeable future. UVa’s COVID Tracker is a start. The university has the potential to do more. I hope it rises to the occasion.

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28 responses to “UVa as Petri Dish for COVID-Fighting Policy”

  1. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    A little OT, but worthy of a mention somewhere on this blog…


  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    I’m not sure ONE study at UVA would tell us much even if it was scientifically constructed the “right’ way. It would take several studies as well as analysis by experts in the field.

    Beyond that – I suspect JAB and similar actually have an “agenda” beyond just wanting to know and will choose to highlight the things they want to believe and ignore what they don’t.

    I would actually argue that UVA is TRYING to do what many Conservatives have demanded from the get-go and that is to stay open and not close.

    But clearly the delta variant has upped the ante.

    So UVA is actually following a fairly comprehensive protocol that will still be disagreed with by many Conservatives anyhow.

    UVA and others who want to remain open will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t by the usual suspects who are don’t like science, government or institutions these days.

    Bottom line – no matter what UVA does – it ain’t going to be enough for the critics.

    1. I guess the science is settled, huh, Larry? And you’re the supreme arbiter of what that science tells us. Nothing to fix. Nothing to improve.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        The science is NOT settled but science is not what you are really advocating either.

        There is plenty to fix and improve, but clearly you doubt the science and want science done to suit your politics.

        Call me a skeptic of your innocent motives for more “science”! 😉

        sorry – we’ve cried wolf way too much here for me to beieve you have innocent, truly motives..

        You’re just looking for more balls to hang on that swinging chain!


      2. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        More data is always better than less. But the staff and students are not confined in a petri dish but are out and about in the world, as well, so that must be kept in mind. The Albemarle region is also among the most vaccinated, but they will range further than that.

    2. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      Not true Larry. I suspect no matter what Biden does, you approve. When the Dems lose control of the government, you will magically begin disapproving of the actions of the governmental experts?
      Way back when…you were harping on India. Do you now hate Asians? Or is the success with Ivermectin not fitting the Larry narrative?
      Oh, that’s right, it’s not real because real sources (as defined by Larry and our Silicon Valley overlords) won’t print it. I want an honest debate. I hope the jab works…but hope is not a strategy…that’s my objection. It’s tyrannical to mandate it when so much is not known…and, if you were honest, you’d admit that our “experts” have F UVAed up quite a bit (but you’ll say that’s just science, proving itself). Wouldn’t you expect them to get something right, just by chance?
      Mask? Wrong.
      Shields? Wrong
      Stay inside (keep breathing same air and no Vitamin D)? Wrong
      Social distancing? Wrong
      Cost benefit of lockdowns? Wrong (higher drug deaths, alcohol, abuse, psychological, social, economic damage – far more life years will be proved lost than life years saved)
      So, if the experts could maybe get to 50%…if they could tolerate debate…if they could admit what they don’t know…
      UVA’s recent article on the “Town Hall” with public health experts is a classic example. While advocating non-stop for vaxing, they make a number of statements that they do not know are true or hope are true – more data “could indicate” and the doctor “would anticipate” – I believe the trendy term the kids use is “confirmation bias.”
      I want honesty and a fair debate.
      Not repeated confirmation bias with a demand I trust people I believe are untrustworthy.
      As they would say in Missouri – Show me.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Wrong on Biden. I have definite concerns on some of his actions and policies.

        But at least he’s not trying to corrupt the FBI and threatening to fire CDC and FDA people who don’t agree with him or fostering civil insurrection.

        Asians? India, ivermectin? what ARE you talking about?

        Yes I put more stock in credible sources that ones that are not. guilty as charged. I do tend to believe the CDC and FDA when both are looking at more than one study – at multiple ones and making judgements accordingly.

        I trust their guidance on masks, social distancing, vaccines, and more.

        It’s not every going to be 100% true but it’s way better than the whataboutism.

        The CDC and FDA CAN even be WRONG and have been – but on the longer run , I trust them over one-shot studies or wacadoodles blathering pure misinformation and worse.

        1. walter smith Avatar
          walter smith

          Larry – unlike the Troll, who pretty much just calls names, and Nancy who keeps it snarky and wishes death on people, you at least try to answer with science. I believe your trust in so-called science from the government is misplaced as too trusting. Bureaucrats are people. Most people in government skew to the left. I believe there is bias there – see 37 FISA errors all going the same way. I believe they have a bias to “find” things justifying their jobs. When people cite other studies, your typical routine is to discredit the source or call them wacadoodles. That is not acceptable. Science is supposed to be a dispassionate process in search of truth, not to justify your job or to to please the benefactors of your research grant. The scientific process has been corrupted by a lot of confirmation bias. So, when people raise questions, you should answer the points raised. Science should lead to replicatable results. The problem with the groups you seem to unquestionably believe in is twofold – they have squandered their trustworthiness and they have over-promised and under-delivered.
          As to India, months back you were arguing for continued fear over “cases” in India. On April 24 a State in India with a population of 240 million adopted the Ivermectin protocols. It currently has a case rate at about 1000th of the US. Meanwhile, other Indian States have not had the success and lack of Ivermectin would appear to be the most obvious answer. But, rather than study why, the FDA tries to panic people about off label uses of drugs that are perfectly safe. People who are seeking these treatments essentially are having to get the Covid equivalent of “back alley abortions,” trying to get these drugs in a black market sort of way and misusing them. I would question why? And I also question why the current treatment protocol is go home and call if you get sicker when there is abundant evidence of the aggressive use of the Ivermectin and HCQ protocols prevents the cytokine storm (usually).

          Here is some “science” from a division of NIH? Do you trust that, or are they wacadoodles?

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            So I do trust ncbi but not for one study without it being replicated by other authoritative sources. It’s a data point.

            That’s what I expect from the CDC or FDA – that they are looking at a range of studies – and the “they” are people with significant credentials in the field.

            I don’t think they are perfect by any stretch of the imagination and yes, they have been wrong and sometimes are ponderous especially when dealing with new and fast changing issues.

            In the case of Ivermectin, I’d NEVER use this study as a rationale for taking that drug. NEVER! I want to see other studies and I want to see guidance with respect to how it would be used in actual medical practices – the protocols that would lay out the do’s and don’ts, dosage, for what kind of people by age, health status, etc.

            And I’d buy a EUA if we had a threat that was significant and few other alternatives.

            but I would NEVER use this one study to guide me to self-administer it.

            More studies may well lead us to an analog… and I support that research.

            But when FOX News or other media have people on to essentially promote it – it’s grossly irresponsible IMHO.

            When people go on social media and promote it, it’s irresponsible.

            I’d need to read more about India – which is more like a 3rd world country in some respects and whose standards may well not be what we’d see in other developed countries.

            I don’t think what they do in India is what we should do to be honest without more research in this country, more than one study before we consider it.

            The FDA does not panic people.

            Geeze, they allow all kinds of drugs on the market that are pretty risky and require a ton of warnings (that we see on TV).

            I actually feel like some of the drugs that are on TV are damned dangerous and can cause death – they say so.

            I need to stop here to keep it short but will address other points, point by point if you que them up.

            I do use the term wacadoodle but I try not to attack people personally unless they initiate it and even then will try to get the dialogue back to the issues and away from personal – so I do appreciate you doing that.

          2. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Larry – that study is a meta-study. A study of studies.

          3. LarrytheG Avatar

            It’s a study of other studies. I agree. It’s not clear at all how many others were in the studies, their ages or their health status, etc. Were those independent studies or were they trying to replicate each other?

            Nor is it clear what the dosing was , what was established as a correct dose, what was dangerous, etc.

            The studies are credible, I agree.
            But we are still a long way from a standard protocol for treatment and there is no way any folks should be self medicating by reading those studies.

            But, one of the reasons, there are less deaths in hospitals is BECAUSE they have found improved methods for treatment using drugs and treatments that are still off label.

            None of this changes the fact that COVID is still a highly contagious disease with serious health impacts to some and results in death for the unvaccinated at much higher rates.

            Are you sort of advocating the idea that people can not get the shot but then rely on these off-label treatments?

          4. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            For the last time. I am advocating that people understand mandates are wrong. One size does not fit all. Subsidiary points would be the government is in the way and has hindered getting out of this with wrong policies (masks, social distancing, lockdowns), focusing on a leaky vaccine, changing the historical position on natural immunity, discouraging therapeutics and leaving the treatment protocol as go home and hope you don’t get sicker. This works for almost all…but we know who is at risk and we have shown that aggressive HCQ or Ivermectin prevents (largely) things getting so bad that hospitalization is needed. I think the net result of all of the government’s actions is it has cost lives. And I think it is possible that part of the desire to vax everybody is to hide their mistakes and when over, declare victory. Unshackle the American medical system and watch what happens when a doctor observes his patient and tailors the cure. Finally, if you want the shot, get the D@** shot! We have a whole array of tools – use them!

    3. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      Or… just look at what Texas and Florida are doing, and do the opposite.

      Reports are that, because of the unvaccinated, hospitals in the Bible Belt are using soooo much O2 that it’s creating shortages.

      Simply solution: substitute He. That way those “I wish I had gotten the vaccine” videos will at least be funnier.

      1. And that bears upon my post… how?

        1. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          Okay if you insist. Make it University of Texas and University of Florida.

  3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    Better than Liberty apparently…

  4. Seth Tandett Avatar
    Seth Tandett

    Is it possible that the vax allows folks to catch the virus, suppresses symptoms & does not stop the spread? Is UVA testing folks regularly vaccinated or not? If not, I would suggest this is not a comprehensive study.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yes – breakthrough infections are a reality and it’s really a dynamic and evolving environment that we don’t know al the answers to yet. .

      but the damage done for most who have been vaccinated is very much less than to those who are not vaccinated, so getting vaccinated is a no-brainer..

      I’m quite sure if a UVA student has a severe reaction or worse that we’ll all know about it and all the gory details forthwith.

      UVA is just trying to stay open. Give them credit, they’re not closing and staying open is a real conundrum, but again, they’re giving it a shot – even as the critics and boobirds are still lobbing what-about-isms grenades.

      I don’t get it. I would have though everyone or most everyone would want to get on board with whatever had to be done to open back up and stay open – just do what it takes and yes.. I’m okay with UVA deciding – they got a world-class medical team there.

      1. Seth Tandett Avatar
        Seth Tandett

        How do we know the vaccinated are causing less harm than the unvaccinated?

        It just seems odd to me that they have decided to not test vaccinated folks once contact of infected person has been confirmed just to make sure the vaccine is doing what it’s supposed to be doing.

        Also, why are exposed unvaccinated folks being quarantined even with no symptoms but vaccinated folks that have been exposed are not being quarantined although it has been shown they can spread the virus?

      2. killerhertz Avatar

        There’s no evidence of your claim that the “damage is reduced”

  5. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    I will destroy Bacon’s reputation by agreeing with him…mostly!
    I would like to add one question – Is it possible that the jab hurts the natural immunity of the previously infected? It’s possible it enhances; it’s possible it does nothing; it’s possible it detracts.
    One problem with UVA’s coercion is that it eliminated a number of people to test on. I know some of the kids who have exemptions previously had Covid, but I don’t know how many did not. And UVA did not gather that info in its onerous, contract of adhesion forms whether the applicant previously had Covid. I also know a large number of previously infected kids got the jab (they gave in to the bribe and coercion – not faulting them – faulting UVA). So it would be good to compare the data on previously infected jabbed vs not jabbed. But they probably won’t like what they discover…so they won’t!

  6. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    Times have changed. The only shot I remember at VPI was Old Grandad.

    1. Me too. I was a Wild Turkey man for “religious” reasons but same principle.

  7. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    This is a good suggestion. My assumption is that someone at UVa is smart enough to have set up such a study.

  8. killerhertz Avatar

    This was entirely predictable to anyone capable of rational thought. It’s good to see they were wrong on forced vaxed. So good it did them. I keep hearing from friends and my wife’s clients about “breakthroughs” in their families and friend circles. At least we can maybe get to herd immunity and trust in this bogus vaccine therapy will be eroded so vax compulsion become a thing of the past. Let people take the jab if they have confidence in it.

  9. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    Liberty announced a campus-wide quarantine… after one week of classes. I guess they are all working on their natural immunity, eh…

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      Clearly , they have been invaded and taken over by the same useful idiot leftists that have locked down other schools.

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