College Students Claim 'Aborted Fetal Tissue' in Vaccine Testing Exempt Them From Mandates

College students are suing St. John's University in New York over its vaccine mandate, claiming the "aborted fetal tissue" in vaccine testing exempt them from having to get inoculated against COVID-19.

The New York Post was first to report on the lawsuit, which was brought forward by 17 plaintiffs. The students asserted that the school's vaccine requirement violated their religious beliefs because the shots were tested using "aborted fetal tissue or human embryonic stem-cell derivation."

The university said in court filings that they question the "genuineness of their purported religious beliefs," according to the Post.

The three coronavirus vaccines currently being used in the U.S.—Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—do not contain aborted fetal DNA or fetal cells as an ingredient.

Both Moderna and Pfizer used fetal cell lines in their testing stages for their vaccines, while Johnson & Johnson used a human fetal cell line called PER.C6. Fetal cell lines are derived from decades-old fetal cells, not recent procedures.

Several religious organizations have signed off on the vaccine. The Vatican said that "it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process" when "ethically irreproachable COVID-19 vaccines are not available."

James Mermigis, the plaintiffs' attorney, told the Post it was "disgusting" that the university is "trampling on students' religious rights.

"St. John's believes that they are free to discriminate against students because they are immune from human rights laws because they are a private, religious institution," Mermigis told Newsweek.

NY College Students Sue Vaccine Mandate
College students are suing St. John’s University in New York over its vaccine mandate. In this photo, a medical staff member prepares a syringe with a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine at a pop up vaccine clinic at the Jewish Community Center on April 16, 2021 in the Staten Island borough of New York City. Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

St. John's University, a private Catholic school, announced in April it was requiring all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and show proof of vaccination before returning to campus for the fall semester. Vaccines have been provided by the university free of charge for faculty, staff and students.

The school said exemptions would be made for students with proof of a documented medical condition or due to religious beliefs. The deadline to apply for both exemptions was on August 9. Students enrolled in a fully online degree program and living remotely are also exempt from the vaccine mandate.

Mermigis told Newsweek that St. John's University "set up a religious exemption application that would set up the students for failure."

He also said requests he made for exceptions for a 5th-year pharmacy student and a 4th-year pharmacy student went ignored by the university.

"These students cannot transfer to other schools," Mermigis said.

A spokesman for the university, Brian Browne, told Newsweek that the school remains "committed" to its mandate amid the legal challenge.

"With a 98 percent and rising student vaccination rate, St. John's University remains committed in our public health and safety efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic," Browne said.

Last week, the Supreme Court declined an attempt to block New York City's requirement that public school teachers receive COVID-19 vaccinations. The city's 150,000 school employees had until Friday at 5 p.m. to show proof of vaccination or to obtain a religious or medical exemption.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday that 95 percent of full-time New York City Public School employees are vaccinated against COVID-19, including 96 percent of teachers.

Update (10/4/2021, 1:30 p.m. ET): This story has been updated with comment from attorney James Mermigis.