UVA Needs an Honest Assessment of Its Covid Response

by Walter Smith

In late 2019, I spent 65 nights in the VCU hospital – first to beat leukemia, then to undergo a bone marrow transplant. I was dismissed to a post-hospital protocol of isolation, except for trips to the hospital. So, I was doing seclusion well before Covid made it “cool.” I found the hospital experience fascinating, along with “the science” of what was done to me.

When Covid first appeared, I was willing to trust “the experts,” but I lost trust pretty quickly. When Dr. Anthony Fauci was asked about hydroxychloroquine, touted by a French physician as useful in fighting Covid, he dismissed the study as “anecdotal.” The beneficial effects, he said, were never demonstrated in randomized double-blind, clinical trials. The very next questioner asked him about masking and social distancing. He responded he had no doubt those strategies were working — no need for randomized double-blind trials. My lawyer BS detector went through the roof.

Then I witnessed my daughter’s senior year in high school being destroyed by lockdown protocols. I watched as inconsistent standards were applied all over the country. ABC stores and abortion facilities were A-OK, but churches were not. Perhaps, having beaten leukemia and surviving the bone marrow transplant, I was more “cavalier” about the risks of Covid than I should have been, but I never got caught up in the hysteria. Covid was a coronavirus, a family of viruses that have been circulating among humans since 1965 at least.

One might hope the University of Virginia, home to a major medical research university, would base its Covid policy more on the science and less on politics than Dr, Fauci did. But I was sadly disillusioned. In 2021, the Board of Visitors cited UVA’s “highly successful handling of COVID-19” in awarding President Jim Ryan a $200,000 performance bonus. In light of what we have since learned about the virus, such praise seems incomprehensible.

During a gap year, my daughter went to Costa Rica and got the South American variant of Covid. She was going to start her first year of UVA in August of 2021. UVA announced the vaccination mandate and I immediately objected. She had had Covid twice and acquired natural immunities. She had as much protection against the virus as anyone with the vaccination. I spent several months on an almost daily basis approaching everyone — and I mean everyone, including the president’s office, BOV, UVA Health, UVA Law, Dean of Students, Virginia Department of Health. Other than a few perfunctory “form” responses, I was ignored by all.

Here is what I have learned about UVA’s Covid response and policies:

  1. Attorney General Mark Herring’s opinion that gave legal cover to Virginia universities to mandate Covid vaccinations was wrong on its face. He opined on the authority of universities to mandate an “approved” vaccine. The Covid vaccine was never “approved” – it was given Emergency Use Authorization (EAU). If I could see the bait and switch, Jim Ryan and UVA’s law profs should have, too.
  2. The UVA Patient’s Rights policy, like that of all health systems at that time, clearly stated that patients had the right to accept or refuse medical treatment and would not suffer adverse consequences for that decision. Yet students with natural immunity patients who declined to take the vaccine were “disenrolled.”
  3. As an EAU treatment, the vaccine was experimental. Under the Nuremberg Code, one can participate in a medical experiment (which the shots were and are) only with “informed, willing consent.” One BOV member did interact with me a few times until I mentioned the Nuremberg Code, and I then got a “how dare you, I went to see Normandy with my father” cut-off response for my temerity.
  4. The first UVA religious exemption request was illegal on its face. UVA removed the obviously offending language, but I believe the revised form still violated the Virginia Constitution. It certainly violated Jeffersonian religious liberty principles (which the BOV is supposed to protect).
  5. Students were terrified of being othered. Perhaps the “Summer of Love” and the Morgan Bettinger treatment and the Nick Cabrera treatment convinced students it was not worth it to raise a fuss. Many parents also raised objections and, I believe, were ignored.
  6. HIPAA privacy protections were frequently violated. I know athletic trainers would follow up with athletes to ask why they hadn’t gotten their shot yet. I believe teachers knew who was and was not vaccinated in certain cases.
  7. Based on UVA’s own data, the Covid vaccine provided less protection than natural immunity. UVA claimed a vaccination rate of 97% for its student body. Using rough numbers, that suggests that there were 24,250 vaccinated students and 750 unvaccinated. UVA’s Covid tracker reported 3,000 cases for the vaccinated and 75 for unvaccinated. In other words, about 10% of the unvaccinated got the disease compared to 13% for the vaccinated. If you consider that the unvaccinated students were subjected to weekly testing to spot the virus, while the others were not, the actual disparity was likely greater.

The required 3rd shot was a purely political decision. UVA originally set a February 1 deadline for the 3rd shot. Then on January 7, 2022, UVA advanced the deadline to January 14, 2022, which just “happened” to be the day before the swearing in of Governor Glenn Youngkin, who was known to oppose vaccine mandates.

Perhaps in the interest of its “unequivocal” support for free inquiry, UVA would be willing to do some email searches without cost to assure us that these decisions were truly in the best interests of the students and in the best interests of the flagship school of the Commonwealth, and not mere partisan political hackery. I think my daughter deserves that assurance. Wouldn’t you also want that as the parent of a mandated 3rd-shot student?

Many employees of UVA Health lost their jobs. They have sued for compensation. UVA has spent nearly $2 million defending the health system for how it handled religious exemption requests.

Two hundred and thirty-eight students were “disenrolled” because they refused to get vaccinated and didn’t qualify for an exemption. They, too, should get their money back.

UVA has never given me a straight answer for how many religious exemption requests by students were denied. UVA claims to have no knowledge of any vaccine injuries — most likely because UVA did not bother to count them. How many students got shots against their will? How many parents had their concerns overridden? How could a guy like me, as of May 21, 2021, have been more correct than the “experts” at UVA about masks, social-distancing and vaccines?

Don’t we all deserve an honest appraisal? And perhaps some heartfelt apologies?

Walter Smith chairs the Jefferson Council’s Research Committee. The views expressed here are his own.

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B Randall
B Randall
1 month ago

Is there any doubt that Jim Ryan should be removed? From his politically-influenced handling of COVID to his tragic handling and hypocrisy of race issues, Ryan has turned the flagship university of the Commonwealth into a disappointing institution of noncritical thinkers parroting DEI messages. He must go!

Ellen Manning
Ellen Manning
1 month ago

Totally agree. My daughter was first year and came home for Christmas 2021. She was basically told she couldn’t come back u til she got a third shot booster. I was furious! We went back and forth about what to do and she eventually just gave in and got the shot. We felt helpless and are now just waiting for any consequences.

Wahoo74
Wahoo74
1 month ago

Excellent article, Walter. I agree 100% with your analysis and conclusions. This is President Ryan’s most autocratic, or perhaps better said, dictatorial action of his presidential tenure.

Patrick Ryan
Patrick Ryan
1 month ago

Thank you Walter for presenting another example of the spreading institutional rot at the heart of UVA.

When the law and medical research operations did not utter a peep during the covid tyranny they showed all you need to know about this faltering university.

Sad, very sad.

Geoffrey Close
1 month ago

So sorry you had leukemia. Glad the bone marrow transplant worked for you. Again sorry your daughter contracted COVID on her visit to Costa Rica . A vaccination is merely having your body exposed to “killed” virus. Having contracted snd survived being exposed to the live virus should have been sufficient, but that’s politics not science. So sorry for you and your family’s experience!

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

You owe me no apologies, and I am not sorry at all for what I went through. It was amazing. I am thankful to be alive.
What I would like is for an honest evaluation by UVA. UVA and the BOV ignored many, many parents. They coerced/blackmailed students. The policies were disastrous and we never had any semblance of any kind of an honest event. The orders were passed down and UVA hid behind “following the science.” I FOIAed all sorts of the policies which always inevitably led back to the CDC. Then VDH just followed the CDC. And UVA just followed the CDC/VDH diktats.
The most egregious for me was a CDC study that UVA said was why the natural immunity Covid survivors were better off vaccinated. That study was based on a non-controlled disparate group of 246 people in Kentucky. When you actually read the study and got to the end where it said the findings were subject to “at least five limitations.” As a layman I read the “limitations” and could conclude the study was worthless as “science” and was useful only for generating a headline to support the CDC position. And then add to this whole debacle that not one UVA Law or UVA Health or history or Econ professor dared to speak out. If none existed, then UVA has a staffing problem. If some existed, but knew speaking out was a death sentence, THAT is a problem. The answer is BOTH. Very few profs exist who do not drink the Kool-Aid, AND all know bucking the Admin is an academic death sentence.

Dennis Hughes
Dennis Hughes
1 month ago
Reply to  walter smith

Ryan has done everything but turn out the lights.
1-emasculated honor system
2-void of academic freedom
3-Void of free speech

walter smith
walter smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Dennis Hughes
Jim Kovalchick
Jim Kovalchick
1 month ago
Reply to  Geoffrey Close

Actually you are wrong about the vaccine. The covid vaccines used lab created mRNA that caused cells to make a protein that is considered an immune response thus making antibodies. This does not invalidate your theory about the efficacy of the body’s own response to live virus. Further, the mRNA has not been proven to free of other than the intended impact on people. To use Fauci’s word, there is at least “anecdotal” evidence that the mRNA impacted groups of people in permanent ways.

The Bootstrap Kid
The Bootstrap Kid
1 month ago

Woke/Democrat corruption has permeated all the major institutions of our country. I feel like I’m living in Rome in 410 A.D.