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The Effect of Vaccine Mandates on Disease Spread: Evidence from College COVID-19 Mandates


  • Riley K. Acton
  • Wenjia Cao
  • Emily E. Cook
  • Scott A. Imberman
  • Michael F. Lovenheim


Since the spring of 2021, nearly 700 colleges and universities in the U.S. have mandated that their students become vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. We leverage rich data on colleges’ vaccination policies and semester start dates, along with a variety of county-level public health outcomes, to provide the first estimates of the effects of these mandates on the communities surrounding four-year, residential colleges. In event study specifications, we find that, over the first 13 weeks of the fall 2021 semester, college vaccine mandates reduced new COVID-19 cases by 339 per 100,000 county residents and new deaths by 5.4 per 100,000 residents, with an estimated value of lives saved between $9.7 million and $27.4 million per 100,000 residents. These figures suggest that the mandates reduced total US COVID-19 deaths in autumn 2021 by approximately 5%.

Suggested Citation

  • Riley K. Acton & Wenjia Cao & Emily E. Cook & Scott A. Imberman & Michael F. Lovenheim, 2022. "The Effect of Vaccine Mandates on Disease Spread: Evidence from College COVID-19 Mandates," NBER Working Papers 30303, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:30303
    Note: ED HE PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Patrick Carlin & Brian E. Dixon & Kosali I. Simon & Ryan Sullivan & Coady Wing, 2022. "How Undervalued is the Covid-19 Vaccine? Evidence from Discrete Choice Experiments and VSL Benchmarks," NBER Working Papers 30118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    3. Raj Chetty & John N Friedman & Emmanuel Saez & Nicholas Turner & Danny Yagan, 2020. "Income Segregation and Intergenerational Mobility Across Colleges in the United States," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 135(3), pages 1567-1633.
    4. Abrevaya, Jason & Mulligan, Karen, 2011. "Effectiveness of state-level vaccination mandates: Evidence from the varicella vaccine," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 966-976.
    5. Acton, Riley K. & Cook, Emily E. & Luedtke, Allison, 2022. "The influence of peer institutions on colleges’ decisions: Evidence from fall 2020 reopening plans," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 195(C), pages 288-302.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • H75 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations - - - State and Local Government: Health, Education, and Welfare
    • I18 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Government Policy; Regulation; Public Health
    • I23 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Higher Education; Research Institutions

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