High COVID-19 vaccine coverage allows for a re-opening of European universities

Research output: Working paper


Returning universities to full on-campus operations while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing has been a controversial discussion in many countries. The risk of large outbreaks in dense course settings is contrasted by the benefits of in-person teaching. Transmission risk depends on a range of parameters, such as vaccination coverage, number of contacts and adoption of non-pharmaceutical intervention measures (NPIs). Due to the generalised academic freedom in Europe, many universities are asked to autonomously decide on and implement intervention measures and regulate on-campus operations. In the context of rapidly changing vaccination coverage and parameters of the virus, universities often lack the scientific facts to base these decisions on. To address this problem, we analyse a calibrated, data-driven simulation of transmission dynamics of 10755 students and 974 faculty in a medium-sized university. We use a co-location network reconstructed from student enrolment data and calibrate transmission risk based on outbreak size distributions in other Austrian education institutions. We focus on actionable interventions that are part of the already existing decision-making process of universities to provide guidance for concrete policy decisions. Here we show that with the vaccination coverage of about 80% recently reported for students in Austria, universities can be safely reopened if they either mandate masks or reduce lecture hall occupancy to 50%. Our results indicate that relaxing NPIs within an organisation based on the vaccination coverage of its sub-population can be a way towards limited normalcy, even if nation wide vaccination coverage is not sufficient to prevent large outbreaks yet.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2021

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