Ivy League institutions report high vaccination rates

While the Yale Daily News reported Dartmouth’s total community vaccination rate as the lowest in the Ivy League at 92%, Dartmouth’s “on-campus” rate of 96% is in line with Cornell and Harvard’s.

by Emily Fagell | 10/19/21 5:05am

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by Hannah Li / The Dartmouth

On Oct. 6, in an article comparing Yale’s vaccination rate to Ivy League peers, The Yale Daily News reported Dartmouth as having the lowest vaccination rate in the Ivy League, with 92% of students, faculty and staff having documented complete COVID-19 vaccination according to the College’s dashboard. 

However, Interim Provost David Kotz noted in an interview with The Dartmouth that The Yale Daily News reached this conclusion by comparing its own undergraduate student vaccination rate — 99.6% as of Monday, according to recently published data — to Dartmouth’s entire community rate, which includes those working and studying remotely. Dartmouth’s vaccination rate jumps to 96% when solely looking at the on-campus community. This figure is the same as both Harvard and Cornell Universities’ published student vaccination rates. 

According to Kotz, the College’s “inside dashboard,” which he said the College keeps internally as a more refined breakdown of COVID-19 statistics, shows that Dartmouth has an overall 99.4% vaccination student compliance rate. 

“They [The Yale Daily News] were doing research based on whatever public data they could find from the various universities, and each university reports [their vaccination rates] in a different way,” Kotz said. “I'm guessing that the reason we don’t present faculty, staff and students [separately], is that what we really care about are people … From a public health point of view, it doesn't matter whether you're a student, faculty or staff. You could get sick or you could transmit the illness.”

Kotz added that Dartmouth has not “pushed as hard” in getting remote students to be vaccinated or to report their vaccination cards, which may contribute to Dartmouth’s lower published “total community” rate. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy fellow Anne Sosin, a public health practitioner, said that Dartmouth’s small student body size means that 10 unvaccinated students at Dartmouth will have a greater impact on the overall percentage than 10 unvaccinated students at a larger institution. 

Across the Ivy League, Dartmouth’s peers publish consistently high vaccination rates, albeit through different reporting mechanisms. As of Monday, Columbia University tops the list at 99.7% of “students” and “across all campuses;” Brown University follows at 99.2% of “students;” Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania are both at 99% of “undergraduate students;” and Cornell University and Harvard University trail at 96% for their “on-campus population” and “students,” respectively. Yale’s faculty and staff rates fall below their reported 99.5% of undergraduates: 96.5% of faculty and 92.7% of staff have reported receiving vaccination, according to the Yale COVID-19 Data dashboard.

Sosin said that these differences in vaccination rate are too close in value to be “meaningful,” adding that Dartmouth’s rates, even if lower than some other institutions, are still “quite encouraging” for the community.

“We're looking at apples and oranges in terms of the numbers,” she said. “Everyone wants to say that they're the best, they have the highest rate of the difference. You know, 96 to 97% is not that big.”

While each institution reports positivity rates differently, reported rates have been low across the Ivy League: as of Monday, Dartmouth reported a 0.13% positivity rate; Cornell a 0.14% positivity rate; Brown reported 0.10%; Columbia came in at 0.24%; Princeton at 0.07% and Harvard at 0.05%; Penn at 0.32%; and Yale reported 21 positive cases. According to the Yale Daily News, Columbia is the only Ivy that does not require regular testing for vaccinated community members.

Kotz noted that only one of the two Dartmouth undergraduate cases reported on Friday was from a person living on campus. According to the dashboard, there are now three undergraduate cases as of Monday.

“I'm feeling pretty good, honestly, about our positivity rate last week,” Kotz said. “We only had two positive [COVID-19 cases] all week, which is pretty amazing.”

Some students, noting the high vaccination and low positivity rates at their institutions, said they have felt comfortable on their campuses. At Dartmouth, Maya Resnick ’25 said she has felt “very safe.”

“I think the only times that I really think about [COVID-19] are when I'm getting tested, but even then I don't even feel worried,” Resnick said. “I just kind of assume that everyone's vaccinated. And honestly, the freshman plague [non-COVID-19 viral illness] is more talked about than [COVID-19].”

Yale freshman Kate Reynolds echoed the same sentiment about her institution, saying she rarely worries about COVID-19 when navigating daily life, pointing to Yale’s high vaccination rate and low case numbers.

"It honestly isn't very much of a concern for me,” Reynolds said. “The vaccine changed my approach to [COVID-19] a lot. I don't really get nervous about [it], because we've had such [few] cases in general.”

Although the discrepancies in vaccination rates may be too small to significantly affect campus health, anthropology professor Sienna Craig said she does not discount the ways geographic location, culture and politics may affect attitudes toward the vaccine. According to Craig, Dartmouth’s location in rural New England could potentially play a role in its COVID-19 response, contrasting larger urban areas like New York City that have experienced “concentrated devastation.”

“The echoes of death, the echoes of disparity and recognitions of inequality are a lot harder to not see in a place like New York,” Craig said. 

Craig added that New Hampshire’s complicated political climate could also affect attitudes toward the vaccine, noting that “there's not one set of cultural factors or determinants around why people might not want to be vaccinated.” Dartmouth employees come from various locations throughout Vermont and New Hampshire, with the latter having a  “a long history of being a libertarian environment,” according to Craig. 

She pointed to the close quarters of residential life and the lack of socialization many students felt during the pandemic as a potential driver of high vaccination rates on Ivy League campuses.

“Perhaps some students, or students as a whole, may realize the trade-offs of living in close proximity to each other, wanting as much as possible after the very challenging last year and a half to return to being together,” she said.

Reynolds had a similar theory about Yale’s “very, very overwhelmingly” pro-vaccination student body.

“I'm obviously a freshman, but last year on campus, it sounded pretty terrible just because obviously there wasn't a vaccine yet, so there could be very few classes in person and very few social gatherings or any clubs in person,” Reynolds said. “The school as a whole is just really geared towards vaccination efforts because they know that it made this year so much more normal and so much more enjoyable for students.”

Now that most students are vaccinated, Kotz says the College will turn its attention to faculty and staff. This decision also responds to the new federal vaccination mandate: By Dec. 8, Dartmouth must ensure that all employees — including those working remotely in New York, Boston and San Francisco — have been vaccinated or have received an exemption. Community members may receive an exemption for medical or religious reasons, according to the Dartmouth website.

Those who do not comply will no longer be able to work for Dartmouth, according to Kotz. As such, he said he expects Dartmouth’s vaccination rate to continue to rise.

“I'm expecting that number to start increasing significantly now that we are going to remind those personally that have not yet complied,” he said. 

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