A study of university students and staff has laid bare the abject failure of pandemic policy interventions such as vaccination, masks, mass testing and quarantine to limit the spread of COVID-19.
When Cornell University in the U.S. reopened to in-person tuition in August 2021, it had in place an extensive testing, contact tracing and quarantine programme in conjunction with the local health department. Vaccination was mandated for all students and encouraged for employees (students as usual getting a rough deal from their university). Masks were required on campus and isolation orders and contact tracing occurred within hours of any positive result.
The university is therefore an excellent live experiment to see whether vaccination, masks, mass testing and quarantine – tools deployed to contain Covid outbreaks the world over – could succeed.
The findings – published in the Journal of the American Medical Association – could not be clearer: the measures made no visible impact on the outbreak.
Students and staff were required to take a PCR test each week as part of the university surveillance programme. Covid stayed at low levels to begin with – an outcome which the study attributes to the containment measures but this is pure speculation, particularly as New York state was not experiencing an outbreak at this time. Come December, however, with the return of students after the Thanksgiving break and the arrival of Omicron and infections rose sharply.
Within two weeks the test positivity rocketed more than 10-fold, from 0.5% in the week ending December 4th to 5.7% in the weekend ending December 18th. This was despite there being support teams helping the infected to isolate and tracing contacts to instruct them to monitor for symptoms, test and quarantine. It is hard to imagine many non-university communities achieving the level of surveillance and intervention carried out during this period at Cornell.
Over the month from November 28th to December 31st, a total of 2,797 people tested positive, of which 98.6% were vaccinated. This proportion was higher than the 97.9% of the university population who were vaccinated, implying negative vaccine effectiveness (though this may be confounded by, for example, different prior infection rates or behaviours).
The close-contact secondary attack rate (the proportion of close contacts an infected person infects) shot up more than five-fold, from 4.4% prior to November 28th to 22.6% afterwards. This dramatic change is further evidence that it was not the quarantine measures suppressing spread before Thanksgiving, as the secondary attack rate is not affected by the subsequent isolation of cases and contacts, and 4.4% is a very low attack rate and unlikely to trigger an epidemic.
Of the reported cases, 82.2% reported mild symptoms and there were no hospitalisations, confirming once more how low the risk is from this disease, particularly in a community with a high proportion of young people like a university, and how unforgivably excessive and pointless the measures are to combat it. Genetic screening and sequencing confirmed that Omicron was the dominant variant in December.
The researchers concluded that “traditional public health interventions were not a match for Omicron”. Vaccination in particular was “not sufficient to prevent rapid spread, even when combined with other public health measures including widespread surveillance testing” – and indeed, a mask mandate.
Mass vaccination programmes, along with vaccine mandates and passports, were implemented around the world on the basis that being vaccinated would stop the spread of COVID-19. But this study is the latest of many to show that the notion is false: vaccination does not prevent infection, transmission or outbreaks. Neither do face masks or contact tracing and quarantine.
These lessons must be learned. All vaccine mandates must be lifted immediately, all vaccine passport schemes (such as the continuing ban on the unvaccinated entering the U.S.) must be scrapped, and mass vaccination programmes for those not at risk from the virus must be ended. Mask mandates must be lifted; contact tracing and quarantine programmes must be axed. None of these things must be attempted again. That is the only rational response to the findings of this study and others which repeatedly show the same thing. These interventions do not work and are not worth it.