New COVID cases among faculty, staff, students and contract employees. Source: University of Virginia COVID tracker

by James A. Bacon

This academic year the University of Virginia mandated that all students get vaccinated. With few exceptions, all have done so, as have most of the university’s 30,000 faculty, staff and employees. According to the Daily Progress, only 173 are estimated to be out of compliance. They have until January 4 to get their shots. So, how is the University of Virginia’s COVID-fighting regime working out? Have the mandates made a difference?

One way to tell is by comparing the incidence of new COVID cases reported during this fall’s mini-surge with the mini-surge that occurred a year ago, when pre-vaccination measures such as remote learning, quarantining and mandated mask wearing were in place. As can be seen in the graph above, this year’s mini-surge was smaller than last year’s. Last year’s fall surge peaked at 29.6 new cases per day (seven-day running average) compared to 23,3 new cases per day. That clearly looks like an improvement. (Both were dwarfed by the February super-surge, which peaked at 112.6 new cases per day, but I’m trying to compare periods with like conditions.)

In that limited sense, the UVa experiment can be viewed as a success. But these statistics don’t tell the whole story, nor do they answer a question not susceptible to measurement: was the marginal gain worth the trammeling of individual liberties?

One obvious question arises: How does the incidence of COVID in the University of Virginia community compare to that of the commonwealth as a whole? This graph shows the number of cases for the entire state.

Source: Virginia Department of Health

The increase in UVa cases during the late summer/early fall was much muted compared to the statewide run-up in Delta-variant cases. Relatively speaking, the UVa community was a COVID-free zone. By that measure, the mandates were a triumph.

But, then, the number of confirmed cases is only one relevant measure of the epidemic. The number of hospitalizations is an arguably more relevant measure. The only reason we care about COVID is that a meaningful percentage of people who get the virus wind up in the hospital, and a meaningful percentage of them die. If that weren’t the case, we would care no more about COVID than we do about the flu.

The UVa COVID tracker provides data for new hospitalizations. The problem is that it doesn’t tell us how many members of the UVa community were hospitalized — it includes all COVID-19 patients, including those from Charlottesville and the surrounding area treated by the UVa health system. The data (as seen in the graph below) shows that the Delta-variant surge caused almost as many hospitalizations as the January/February spike. One can surmise that most of those hospitalizations were of people outside of the highly vaccinated UVa community, although we don’t know that for certain. It is inexplicable that UVa’s COVID tracker does not track hospitalizations for students and employees as opposed to the population at large.

Source: UVa COVID tracker

However, there are other ways to delve into the data for hospitalizations and deaths…

The Virginia Department of Health database provides the following breakdown of hospitalizations and deaths by age group for the Blue Ridge Health District, which roughly coincides with the UVa health system service area.

The number of hospitalizations in the age groups overlapping with UVa’s college students was very small — a total of 60 hospitalizations for the 10- to 29-year-old age brackets. The number of deaths in those brackets — zero.

The bottom line: We can safely say that the UVa vaccination mandates did reduce the number of reported COVID-19 confirmed cases. We don’t have the data for hospitalizations in the UVa community of students, faculty, staff, and employees because UVa does not provide it. But we know that the number of hospitalizations in the student age brackets was small for the Blue Ridge health district overall, so we can infer that UVa students were never at much risk for hospitalization to begin with. Finally, we can suggest that the number of student deaths prevented by UVa’s vaccination mandates was zero. We can draw no firm conclusions about deaths of faculty, staff and employees who belong to older age brackets. A small number of hospitalizations and deaths might have been prevented in this group — we just can’t say.

Were the vax mandates justified? Philosophically speaking, striking the right balance between protecting individual liberties versus protecting the public health cannot be resolved by referring to the data. From a utilitarian viewpoint, however, data can shed light on the practical question of whether the mandates made any difference. At least in theory.

Unfortunately, we lack critical data that might allow us to answer the utilitarian question. UVa’s COVID tracker has a second big gap: we don’t know how many students and employees had previously been infected by COVID-19. It is still a matter of scientific argument how powerful and how long-lasting naturally acquired immunities are, but there seems to be no doubt that they confer some protection.

I have argued, as have others, that UVa should have granted a vaccination exemption to those who had acquired natural immunities (and could prove so with antibody tests). The relevant comparison, then, is how many hospitalizations and deaths occurred under the universal-vaccination regime compared to how many there would have been had previously infected COVID-19 patients been exempted.

We don’t know, and we never will. It’s a shame that, with all the capabilities they possess, UVa’s COVID khans did not collect the data that would allow us to answer those questions.

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23 responses to “Was UVa’s Vax Mandate Justified? We’ll Never Know.”

  1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “UVa’s COVID tracker has a second big gap: we don’t know how many students and employees had previously been infected by COVID-19. It is still a matter of scientific argument how powerful and how long-lasting naturally acquired immunities are…”

    And the UVa population, at least, does not need to concern itself with that debate. One of the many benefits of having a nearly fully vaccinated population…

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      yep – the anti-vaxxers are running amok… you can bet they are not going to vaccinate their kids…. and claim they have a right to not vaccinate them and they have a right to attend school. they have “liberty”…

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        You two are idiots.
        No one is against the measles vaccine. Maybe a very few people, but here is who is getting measles…
        “However, all people confirmed to have measles in Virginia recently traveled from Afghanistan as part of the United States government’s emergency evacuation efforts known as Operation Allies Welcome.”
        Whose policy is it to import people willy-nilly without even Covid testing?
        Hypocrites. And a waste of time for rational discourse.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          au contraire – idiots are those who don’t get vaccines over some misguided sense of “liberty”… yes, different pews of the same church of idiocy…

          and what is this foolishness about EULA?

          we have billions of people who have been vaccinated with a small number of adverse reactions not that different from prior vaccines for measles, mumps, polio and smallpox.

          It’s anti-govt and anti-science on steroids.

        2. Nancy Naive Avatar
          Nancy Naive

          How unaware are you? What rock have you been under? You really need to read up on anti-vaxxers. They eschew all vaccines. The current movement started with the MMR, and MMRV vaccines.

      2. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        The anti-vaxxers will be easy to spot. Their children will have god awful pox scars on their faces, be sterile from post pubescent mumps, and die from ovarian or testicular cancers.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I get tired of hearing the complaint about “trammeling of individual liberties” when it comes to getting the COVID vaccination. College students have had to show proof of vaccination against other contagious diseases for many, many years. Why isn’t that a “trammeling of their individual liberties”? Dog owners have to have their pets vaccinated against rabies, another public health threat. Why isn’t that a “trammeling of their individual liberties”? I don’t hear conservatives in an uproar about those requirements. What makes a COVID vaccination different?

    As for more data, I have a sneaking suspicion that, even if UVa collected the data you indicated was missing, you would demand even more data.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      re: ” “trammeling of individual liberties”

      agree.. what a triple load of BS!

      You don’t have a “right” to “trammel” on other folks liberties EITHER.

      UVA took action. It paid off and now the “Nattering Nincompoop of Negativism” have to blather….

      We had a pandemic… it HAD to be someone’s fault…. it’s can’t just be a pandemic… nope… someone is responible…

    2. Nancy Naive Avatar
      Nancy Naive

      That was then. This is now.

      Vaccines are the new battleground between the parties, the ideologies, and the IQ quintiles.

      But we, you and I, know the outcome, so why worry?

    3. walter smith Avatar
      walter smith

      I’m sick of people pretending government by fiat is OK.
      I’m sick of government breaking the law and violating the Constitution.
      I’m sick of doctors and lawyers violating their professional oaths to comply with unlawful and immoral actions.
      Yes, we do have vaccine requirements, but you know what? They are for real vaccines that actually are known to work and are understood as to side effects.
      And even so, for those, medical and religious exemptions were allowed…and the world didn’t end! Oh, the horror! Why, maybe we could make the Christian Scientists wear yellow stars or something…
      The Covid “vaccine” is not a vaccine. It is a therapeutic, only available on emergency use authorization, for which federal law states that the patient has the right to accept or refuse. Period. Even though all of the Virginia government pretends and hides behind AG Herring’s opinion, anyone with a brain knows it is a steaming pile of equine fecal matter. In fact, UVA has published an article on the Feds being able to supersede any State religious exemption because of federal supremacy… (And he is wrong b/c he is a Leftist and hates the Constitution, the First amendment religious liberty should trump,but I digress) So, how come federal supremacy applies to overrule religious liberty, but it does not apply to stop forced medical experimentation?
      And, by the way, medical experimentation, without informed, WILLING consent violates the Nuremberg Code, but why should I be such a stickler? Yes, I should just agree with all the totaliatarians.
      Now, IF a law was passed, I might be a little more accommodating…but I would presume A LAW HAS BEEN PASSED, and went through a normal legislative process, and that perhaps medical and scientific evidence even made it make sense…but I would still expect a medical and a religious exemption.
      And, while we’re at it, every single medical system in the US provides for informed consent and the right to accept or refuse treatment….including the right to die. So why is that being abandoned…by fiat? And without real scientific proof? Nor is there any justifiable reason to force kids to get vaccinated. Why don’t we just get rid of old people? Think how much money and medical resources we could save! Come on, old people, you have a duty to die…for the greater good of the people! Or are you being selfish?

      Now back to Bacon’s lament… You know what else is missing? How many of the UVA “cases” and “hospitalizations” are among the vaccinated? Wouldn’t a true intellectual desire for knowledge track that? Shouldn’t we, the public, know?

      There are four classes of vaccinated among the UVA students (there are more – I could divide by coerced and willing) – vaxxed without having had Covid and vaxxed after having Covid. Then we have the unvaxxed who have and have not had Covid. The evidence is beginning to come out that natural immunity is far and away the best protection. What if the vaxxed students who previously had Covid have “breakthroughs” at a greater rate than the unvaxxed Covid survivors? (I think there is already evidence to this effect…and maybe that is why UVA isn’t publicly tracking it.)

      And one more for all you totalitarians, who are really p!$$!ng me off – here are the CDC definitions of “vaccine” and “vaccination” which were mysteriously updated on September 1 of this year…but I’m an idiot for being skeptical!

      Vaccine: A product that stimulates a person’s immune system to produce immunity to a specific disease, protecting the person from that disease. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections but can also be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

      Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease.

      These definitions are taken verbatim from a now-archived webpage on the CDC. But on September 1, 2021, the CDC changed these definitions, which now read as follows:

      Vaccine: A preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but some can be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

      Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease.

      I will restate my OPINION, but which one of the charts above already shows – absent particular risk factors making Covid a real risk to THAT PERSON, no one under 30 should receive the Covid experimental jab, jab, jab ad in finitem…
      My other opinion, it is immoral, illegal, non-scientific and unConstitutional to mandate that people receive an experimental medical product. It is the largest medical experiment in history. Nuremberg trials weren’t that long ago…look in the mirror

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        this is why Conservatives are unfit to govern IMHO.

        give them a problem – and they’ll screw it up even worse!

  3. LarrytheG Avatar

    UVA provides a dashboard tracker but it’s not good enough because it doesn’t provide enough ammunition for the critics to tease out a”failure”?

    The purpose of what UVA was doing was not to reach some statistical benchmark with regard to infections, or hospitalizations or even death, but to simply try to get back to a more normal academic year.

    But that’s not acceptable

    This is why most Universities are not run by Conservatives… and the ones that are – the Conservatives are capable and realistic and can separate real world issues from ideology.

  4. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Still waiting for anyone not named Dick to make a substantive criticism that is actually on point to Jim Bacon’s article.
    Individual liberties vs public health is a fair debate, and we have never had it.
    Meanwhile, I point out illegality, lack of scientific proof, abolition of hundreds of years, more than a thousand?, of medical ethics and the response is anti-vaxxer, Conservative, Afghanis bringing in measles, etc, none on point and all stupid, but, in my opinion Leftism is stupid, so I guess we are even…
    Who is an actual anti-vaxxer? Liberals loved his Daddy. Maybe Marilyn Monroe did, too… He graduated from UVA Law, like his uncle, who, after drowning a girl, hired Dickem, Drivum and Dunkum to cover up his crime…
    But he is against vaxxes in general, not just the mRNA therapeutic, experimental jab… He must be a conservative, amirite?

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      This movie has played before – only the actors have changed:

      History of Anti-vaccination Movements

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “Individual liberties vs public health is a fair debate, and we have never had it.”

      It is not a debate because it is a made up conflict. No liberties have been restricted. As promoted (for some reason) by many an anti-vaxer, every student had the option to claim an exemption if they so wish. You know what, very nearly ALL of them chose to be vaccinated instead. Did you ever think that they all understood that they were all in it together, they are a part of a larger and more at risk community, and this was the easiest path to a return to normalcy – at least close to normalcy?

      Notice, it is anti-vaxer activists (like JAB?!) who are complaining that rights have been infringed and NOT the students who chose (in the end) to be vaccinated. I believe you will find that their opinion (which is really the only one that matters) is that it was well worth it.

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        There is a reason your eyes are brown…
        Get vaxxed, trusting the totalitarians that you will not be masked and won’t have to go the weekly test route and not stand out and have a “normal” experience…
        Surprise! They screwed you anyway, but at least everybody has to wear a mask. “C’mon, Flounder. You JoeBidened up. You trusted us.”
        How about get vaxxed (with what is not a vax but an experimental gene therapy) or lose your job? Is that a made up conflict?
        Which is more dangerous to an otherwise healthy 40 year old? Covid or poverty? If the evil healthy 40 year old has a family, don’t you care about THE CHILDREN?!?
        There is a debate never had about where to draw the line. It has never been had. And the government drawn line is wrong, counterproductive and intentionally evil by people who want to be tyrants.
        Still waiting for any of you wannabe Nazis to address the illegality on the Federal statute, the violation of the Nuremberg code, the violation of medical ethics, the violation of patient’s rights…

        Try something other than racist, anti-vaxxer, Conservative. Oh, and if Trump ordered mandates, I’d be going apes4!+, but so would you Commies (and, for once, you’d be right).

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          Didn’t know you were a UVa student, Walter….

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            Haner says he “hates” this…. 😉

  5. Why was the mandate issued to begin with? UVa. administration clearly doesn’t think the vaccine works. Students still have to mask indoors and the band can’t play indoors at the basketball games (plus they have to wear silly masks with holes in them + bell covers at outdoor football games). The UVa. covid policy has always been about optics. Optics is an insufficient reason for violating bodily autonomy.

    1. LarrytheG Avatar

      UVA was trying to get back to a more normal higher ed mission, and it looks like by using any/all/many mitigation strategies. And that is their call and staff and students can make their choices.

      It’s becoming apparent that there is a certain number of people who do not agree on how Public Health should work for contagious diseases. It’s not a majority, not anywhere near a major but a distinct and stubborn vocal minority

      UVA has a right to do this and lawsuits that challenge that right have been tossed.

      The courts have ruled several times;

      1. Stephen Haner Avatar
        Stephen Haner

        There is five minutes I cannot get back…Gawd, I’m so sick of this.

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