George Mason relents, grants COVID-19 medical exemption to professor

Zywicki wins his case, but must still be tested on campus.
By: | August 17, 2021
Avinash Muruguppan/Unsplash

Todd Zywicki, a professor of law who sued George Mason University over its pandemic vaccine requirements, was given a medical exemption by the institution on Tuesday.

Zywicki, who was represented in his case by the nonprofit New Civil Liberties Alliance, claimed the mandate imposed by the university was excessive since he already had natural immunity via antibodies after acquiring the COVID-19 virus. The NCLA noted that Zywicki took six tests to prove those antibodies were still active.

“I am gratified that George Mason has given me a medical exemption to allow me to fulfill my duties this fall semester in light of unprecedented circumstances,” said Zywicki, GMU Foundation Professor of Law at Antonin Scalia Law School. “Thanks to NCLA, we have increased public awareness that vaccinating the naturally immune is medically unnecessary and presents an elevated risk of harm to COVID-19 survivors. I speak for tens of millions of Americans in the same circumstances I am in, and I call on leaders across the country to develop humane and science-based approaches as opposed to one-size-fits-all policies.”

According to a release from the NCLA, George Mason said it will not pursue disciplinary action against Zywicki. He will be allowed to conduct regular office hours and go to in-person events as long as he maintains six feet of social distancing. Zywicki, however, must submit to COVID-19 testing once a week.

“Prof. Zywicki may continue serving the GMU community, as he has for more than two decades, without undue burden,” said Jenin Younes, NCLA Litigation Counsel and lead counsel. “Nevertheless, NCLA remains dismayed by GMU’s refusal—along with many other public and private universities and other employers—to recognize that the science establishes beyond any doubt that natural immunity is as robust or more so than vaccine immunity.”

George Mason is one of more than 700 colleges and universities that are requiring vaccine mandates for the fall semester. Some, however, have stopped short of requiring them for faculty and staff. It is also requiring masks for all parties who are on campus, including those who are unvaccinated. It is unclear whether those with medical exemptions, like Zywicki, will be absolved from that specific mandate.

Other colleges and universities have encouraged populations to get vaccinated and wear masks with the vaccines still under emergency use authorization and not yet fully approved by the Food & Drug Administration. The NCLA brought to light that fact during its representation of Zywicki. It said it continues to be concerned about the vaccine requirement.

In its release, the NCLA said: “At times GMU officials have appeared to deny that such a thing as naturally acquired immunity exists. This refusal is particularly odd, as the efficacy of the very vaccines GMU wishes to mandate are measured against levels of natural immunity acquired by those who have recovered from COVID-19.  For this reason, NCLA continues to explore litigation against GMU. We also welcome hearing from others on public-university campuses in Virginia—particularly tenured faculty—who have naturally acquired immunity backed by antibody testing and whose schools are similarly disregarding the scientific facts surrounding naturally acquired immunity.”

As a result, unvaccinated professors such as Zywicki the NCLA contends would have a challenging time meeting the same requirements as vaccinated professors on institutional initiatives such as “evaluations, academic collaboration and other professional opportunities.”

Zywicki’s complaint was entered into the Eastern District of Virginia on Aug. 3, a little more than a month after George Mason enacted its mandate. Under that guidance, the NCLA said Zywicki, short of being given an exemption, would have had to disclose his vaccination status as “a prerequisite for eligibility for any merit pay increases,” and could be subject to further discipline, including termination.