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New study on University’s COVID-19 response supports vaccine mandates

| Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken over college campuses in the last two years. Notre Dame has instituted countless safety precautions in place to remedy this issue, and now, the impact of these measures is being studied to test the effectiveness of the University’s overall response. 

The research was conducted by the Children’s Environmental Health Initiative (CEHI) — a group founded in 1998 to research and remedy environmental issues, especially those affecting low-income and minority communities.

“We made the decision to hold in-person classes last year, when many other institutions were shifting entirely online, because of our commitment to our students,” Marie Lynn Miranda, former provost and current director of the CEHI, said in an email. “As everyone at Notre Dame knows, we did a lot of testing which created a lot of data. That put us in the unique position to share what we learned from our in-person experience with other universities and with the public health community more broadly.”

In response to discourse surrounding Notre Dame’s vaccine requirement, the report aimed to find the impact of high vaccination rates within the campus community. The CEHI saw its duty to conduct trustworthy research to help other institutions make informed decisions in regard to vaccine mandates on college campuses.

“The aim of the paper was to determine the association between vaccination coverage and the levels and spread of the SARS-CoV-2, even in the presence of highly-transmissible variants and congregate living,” Miranda said.

To measure this association, the researchers tracked testing data across the spring 2020 semester at Notre Dame, totaling 196,185 saliva-based tests for 14,894 individuals.

The researchers emerged with conclusive results, finding a significant negative correlation between vaccination status and COVID-19 cases — meaning that as vaccination numbers rose on campus, case numbers declined. 

These numbers suggest Notre Dame made the right choice in mandating the vaccine, Miranda said.

“The study shows a strong statistical association between the rapid vaccination uptake on campus and a decline in COVID cases on campus in the second half of the 2020-2021 school year,” she said. “The results validate Notre Dame’s decision to require vaccinations.”

The authors of the study recognized that there were limitations in their research that may require further analysis, acknowledging that the results only show an association, not causality. 

Still, the CEHI concluded their results “support the decision” to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations at colleges and universities across the country.

“At this point, many universities have mandated vaccines. Some are still considering it. We believe this study adds to the body of effectiveness of the COVID vaccines,” Miranda said.

And although the paper was only published this month, it has already gained a significant amount of attention and recognition. According to data science company Altmetric, over 3,200 people have viewed the article since it was published Feb. 3, landing the paper in the top 5% of all research outputs ever tracked by the company.

Miranda said the goal of the research was to make a difference.

“Notre Dame seeks to be a force for good in the world. This research was a way for us to try to be such a force — it was part of our obligation to serve the world,” she said.

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