Calls for end to COVID-19 vaccine booster mandates growing in higher ed

Petitioners cite many factors in requests to lift requirements, including ‘evolving scientific data’ and natural immunity.

In March of 2020, a petition circulated on imploring Yeshiva University in New York City to close its doors because of the new coronavirus. It received more than 2,500 signatures, well short of its goal, but the university did indeed shut down temporarily before shifting classes online.

Fast-forward to January 2022, and there are more than 1,350 signatures on a different petition, this one calling for Yeshiva to end its booster mandate. The goal is 1,500. If it gets there, authors note it is “more likely to get picked up by local news.”

Yeshiva is one of nearly two dozen institutions of higher education being criticized by individuals seeking more freedom on campuses and fewer restrictions, especially around COVID-19. They range from small privates to big state universities such as UCLA and the University of Maryland.

Most of the petitions have garnered a fair amount of support. For example, the one circulating on Quinnipiac University’s directive created less than a week ago already has around 750 signees.

“We appreciate that the booster mandate, new procedures, and your concern for the spring term come from the good intentions to prevent severe illness,” the letter says. “We are concerned that Quinnipiac, in issuing this booster mandate, has overlooked the recent and evolving scientific data regarding the vaccine and the virus that makes a booster mandate inappropriate and unnecessary, raising serious ethical and legal questions.”

Citing natural immunity that “confers longer-lasting and stronger protection” against COVID-19 and what they say is evidence of side effects such as myocarditis and pericarditis, the petitioners want the mandate lifted.

“Quinnipiac is still forcing its students and employees to accept its risk-benefit analysis: that the booster is ‘preferable’ to the risk of contracting COVID while unboosted,” the letter says. “In so doing, our university unsafely denies us the right to evaluate the risk-benefit analysis for ourselves. COVID has a survival rate of over 99.87% for individuals under the age of 65.”

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Many public health experts and studies have indicated that the omicron variant induces less severe reactions than its predecessor, delta. Omicron comprises the vast majority of new cases, but hospitalizations related to COVID-19 across the U.S. have increased more than 50% over the past two weeks. While COVID-19 may not be affecting college-age students as severely, there are considerations on campuses for faculty, staff and immune-compromised individuals, as well as those more vulnerable who may come into contact with college students off campus.

Still, the petitioners say, the booster mandates are a stretch at best, especially given the Supreme Court’s recent block of the Biden Administration’s vaccine mandates on businesses (though that doesn’t affect colleges and universities). Many of those signees want the mandates dropped and college leaders to instead “encourage” populations to get them. There are currently around 300 institutions with booster mandates but thousands more that don’t have any requirements.

Petitions on call out a number of institutions individually for their decisions, including: Stanford, George Mason, UMass, University of Scranton, University of Notre Dame, University at Buffalo, SUNY Stonybrook, Siena College, Manhattanville College, Le Moyne College, Merrimack College, DePauw University, Virginia State University, Salve Regina University, Montclair State University, California State University. There are also others simply filing open letters to their institutions, like one targeted to Cornell University leaders, which has around 900 signatures.

Petitioners have garnered around 800 of a goal of 1,000 signatures to try to get Hofstra University on Long Island to change its stance on booster mandates.

“We fully understand and empathize with the difficult position Hofstra University administration finds itself in during this pandemic,’ authors wrote to President Susan Poser and the Board of Trustees. “Nevertheless, we have very serious safety concerns about the recent vaccine booster mandate. It’s clear that the College’s administration has not exercised sufficient circumspection in creating clearly delineated medically rational “off-ramps” from the booster mandates for those who are already well immune to COVID-19. It is a serious problem that a medically unnecessary third booster shot could prove dangerous and irreparably harmful in such already well immune individuals.”

They say because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not include in its definition of fully vaccinated third doses that Hofstra should “formally exempt” four separate groups from its mandate:

  • “Individuals who, within the span of the past 12-24 months, have had a natural COVID-19 infection AND two mandated mRNA vaccine shots (OR the single shot J&J vaccine).
  • Individuals who had already received the prior mandated vaccinations, and who during this Christmas break experienced a “breakthrough infection” with the Delta or Omicron Variants
  • Individuals whose second dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine was less than 6 months ago.
  • Individuals vaccinated or previously infected, in whom a licensed physician has ordered a personalized serological evaluation and attests that robust and protective COVID-19 immunity is already present.”

And a fifth one: “My body, my choice”, roughly a personal exemption that some universities have recognized, including those in Utah and other states, with what petitioners say is a violation of medical necessity through a “one-size-fits-all” approach. One alum says he opposes the mandate so much he would “cease all donations while these draconian policies remain in effect.”

At Yeshiva, the emotions are just as high in the comments of their page:

“My body, my choice! Covid is over. It’s a cold.”

“Healthy 20-year-olds should not have their medical treatment determined by where they go to school.”

“Mandates are a violation of the medical rights of individuals. My daughter withdrew from YU over the mandates.”

“Mandating this is immoral. You are basing this on no scientific evidence. This is tyranny.”

There have been more than 850,000 deaths and 66 million positive cases of COVID-19 identified since the pandemic began in 2020. There are currently close to 800,000 cases, a rise of 30% over the past two weeks. Deaths are also up 42%.

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Chris Burt
Chris Burt
Chris is a reporter and associate editor for University Business and District Administration magazines, covering the entirety of higher education and K-12 schools. Prior to coming to LRP, Chris had a distinguished career as a multifaceted editor, designer and reporter for some of the top newspapers and media outlets in the country, including the Palm Beach Post, Sun-Sentinel, Albany Times-Union and The Boston Globe. He is a graduate of Northeastern University.

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