Study Suggest Strategy to Reduce Transmission of COVID-19 at Universities

Pavankumar Kamat

November 26, 2021

A new preprint modelling study published on MedRxiv suggests that high levels of vaccination along with asymptomatic testing using lateral flow tests (LFTs) could significantly reduce the transmission of COVID-19 in universities during the autumn term of 2021-2022.

Universities present a unique environment for transmission of infections, owing to a predominantly young population, high-density accommodation, high degree of socialisation and mass migrations of students at the beginning and end of terms. Hence, a better understanding of COVID-19 transmission in university settings remains a key public health goal.

Researchers at the University of Bristol adapted an existing stochastic compartmental model of COVID-19 transmission in a university setting to account for vaccination and waning immunity from natural infection.

In the absence of asymptomatic testing and at a low vaccination uptake rate (30%), the cumulative incidence of COVID-19 during the first term is estimated to be between 53% to 71%. If asymptomatic testing (90% students taking LFTs twice weekly, 4 days apart) is deployed but the vaccination uptake rate still remains low (30%), the cumulative incidence of COVID-19 drops to 37% to 56%.

If the vaccination uptake rate reaches high to very high (70-90%) and asymptomatic testing is deployed, the cumulative incidence of COVID-19 comes down to 7-9%, with about 80% of the cases likely to be asymptomatic.

Dr Emily Nixon from the University of Bristol, who led the study, said: "Our findings highlight the importance of encouraging vaccine uptake and regular testing even without symptoms. These interventions will help institutions set policies to maintain control of COVID-19 and be able to provide uninterrupted education."

The research was supported by the JUNIPER (Joint UNIversities Pandemic and Epidemiological Research) consortium and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Behavioural Science and Evaluation.

Nixon EJ, Thomas AC, Stocks DA, Barreaux AMG, Hemani G, Trickey A, Kwiatkowska R, Walker JG, Ellis D, Danon L, Relton C, Christensen H, Pollock EB. Impacts of vaccination and asymptomatic testing on SARS-CoV-2 transmission dynamics in a university setting. MedRxiv. 2021 Nov 24 [Epub ahead of print]. doi: 10.1101/2021.11.22.21266565.

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