College Vaccine Mandates Reduced COVID-19 Spread in Surrounding Communities

Counties with colleges that implemented vaccine mandates for the fall 2021 semester had fewer COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to a new working paper.

Published August 10, 2022

Edited by Alex Pasquariello
College Vaccine Mandates Reduced COVID-19 Spread in Surrounding Communities
COVID-19
Photo by Christina House / Contributor / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

  • Nearly 700 colleges mandated that their students get vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the paper.
  • Researchers studied COVID-19 outcomes in more than 500 counties during the first 13 weeks of the fall 2021 semester
  • In counties with colleges that had a vaccine mandate, COVID-19 cases dropped by roughly 339 per 100,000 people, and deaths fell by 5.4 per 100,000 people.

College vaccine mandates likely led to better health outcomes in their communities, according to a new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The working paper studied COVID cases during the first 13 weeks of the fall 2021 semester in more than 500 counties with an institution of higher education that instituted a vaccine mandate.

The authors, which include researchers from Cornell University, Miami University of Ohio, Michigan State University and Tulane University, found that vaccine mandates at colleges “led to substantial reductions in disease burden well beyond college campuses themselves.”

The authors note in the paper that “one of the primary arguments for college vaccine mandates comes from externalities imposed by infection among students spreading to other members of the community, rather than benefits to the students themselves.”

“The average county surrounding a college with a mandate saw COVID cases drop by 340 per 100,000 people, and COVID deaths fall by 5.4 per 100,000 over the courts of the fall 2021 semester” Scott Iberman, a professor at Michigan State University and one of the co-authors of the report, said in a social media video. “These are actually really sizable effects.”

Riley Acton, an assistant professor of economics at Miami University and one of the paper’s authors, said on Twitter that college campuses are a unique place to study externality benefits of vaccine mandates because students live in congregate living settings and interact with community members.

Acton wrote that the effects were not driven by “differences in other policies like mask mandates, nor by changes in geographic mobility.”

Iberman said that, based on those calculations, those college vaccine mandates likely reduced the country’s overall COVID death rate by roughly 5%.

The working paper was published as some state and local governments scale back COVID-19 restrictions and vaccination mandates. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced last month that the state’s vaccine mandate for college students and staff wouldn’t be reissued. Grinnell College in Iowa dropped its vaccine mandate last month after a state law went into effect banning such mandates.