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Study Models Surveillance Testing on Fully Vaccinated Campus

October 19, 2021
 
 

A new mathematical modeling study finds that surveillance testing on college campuses with a 100 percent vaccinated population may still play an important role in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 “in all but the most optimistic conditions” for vaccine effectiveness.

The study published in JAMA Health Forum found that in simulations with 90 percent vaccine effectiveness, weekly surveillance testing was linked to only a marginal reduction in virus transmission on a 5,000-student campus with a 100 percent vaccination rate. But at 50 or 75 percent vaccine effectiveness, researchers estimated that surveillance testing reduced infections by as much as 93.6 percent.

The study, which was completed before the widespread emergence of the Delta variant, cited research showing the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines to be about 90 percent effective in blocking infection and transmission, while the Johnson & Johnson vaccine’s effectiveness was estimated at about 67 percent.

“This simulated modeling study of infection dynamics on a college campus in which 100 percent of the student body was vaccinated suggested that surveillance testing had an important role in limiting infections in all but the most optimistic conditions, which may be unrealistic in the face of potentially decreasing vaccine effectiveness because of variants or waning immunity,” the authors wrote in their conclusion.

Francis C. Motta, an assistant professor of mathematical sciences at Florida Atlantic University, was the lead author of the study. The other authors of the study are variously affiliated with Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the National Institutes of Health.

Motta said data from Duke’s COVID-19 testing program were used to inform the modeling.

While some colleges (including Duke) continue to conduct routine testing of both vaccinated and unvaccinated students, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention does not recommend that colleges routinely test vaccinated students.

The CDC’s guidance for higher education institutions says that “fully vaccinated people with no COVID-19-like symptoms and no known exposure should be exempted from routine screening testing programs.”

The CDC did not immediately reply to a request for comment Monday afternoon.

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