What’s the Best COVID Metric — Vaccinations or Antibodies?

by James A. Bacon

The University of Virginia has “disenrolled” 49 students who had registered for fall classes but failed to comply with the school’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Another 184 temporary waivers were granted to students who have had trouble getting vaccinated, according to The Washington Post.

University officials say that fewer than one percent of students are out of compliance. “We are in a much better and much different position than we were last year, primarily because of the vaccines and the extraordinarily high vaccination rate in our community,” said President Jim Ryan.

In the spring semester, the university reported 1,950 infections among students, faculty and staff. By comparison the UVa COVID tracker logged only 12 new cases yesterday and notes that only 56 cases are active — mostly among faculty and staff.

Costi Sifri, director of hospital epidemiology, said that vaccines are one of the best defenses against the virus. “They prevent infection and they are very effective in preventing hospitalization and other serious outcomes,” he said, according to the Post. “It remains the case that people who are vaccinated are much safer from infection than unvaccinated people.”

There they go again — failing to differentiate between unvaccinated people who have recovered from the virus and unvaccinated people who have not been infected.

You’ll get no argument from me that unvaccinated people who have never been infected pose a large risk to themselves and to others. I have no issue with UVa requiring them to get vaccinated (except in rare instances when special medical factors might come into play). But I still don’t understand the stubborn refusal to acknowledge the reality that COVID survivors have a very different risk profile.

If a student hasn’t been vaccinated, how hard would it be to require them to submit to an antibodies test? That’s the bottom line, isn’t it? Does someone have antibodies? If students have antibodies, why does it matter how they acquired them?

It is widely recognized now that the vaccines lose their protective potency over time. Now that we’ve reached the eight-month mark since people began getting vaccinated, some UVa students, faculty and staff will need boosters soon. Why does UVa give these people dispensation over someone who has naturally acquired immunities? Rather than arbitrarily giving every vaccinated person a pass, shouldn’t UVa require everyone to get antibody tests?

Maybe the UVa administration has good reasons to ignore the reality that a large number of people — 740,000 confirmed cases in Virginia, and the actual number is probably much bigger — have natural immunity, but it has yet to explain its logic to the university community.