Fordham Vaccine Mandate, New York's Toughest, Sparks Parents' Revolt

A new COVID-19 vaccine booster mandate by Fordham University has sparked outrage among some parents who are currently planning to express their opposition to the campus protocol, which was announced amid loosening pandemic restrictions in New York City, where some degree of life normalcy has been restored.

University Vice President Marco Valera announced new COVID-19 policies last month requiring all members of the Fordham community to be up-to-date on their vaccinations, including receiving the bivalent booster by November 1.

The bivalent boosters, which are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for people ages 12 and over, are called "bivalent" because they are meant to protect against the original COVID-19 virus and the Omicron variant BA.4 and BA.5.

"Being up-to-date on the vaccine is particularly important because it will be more effective against new variants of the virus, helping us to both keep our community safe, and to function with less disruption," Valera said in September, according to The Fordham Observer.

Parents and Students Reject Mandate

Over 400 people from the Fordham community, including students, parents and alumni, signed a letter, obtained by Newsweek, that they plan to soon send to the university in an effort to express their opposition to the new mandate.

"In the beginning, everybody was hopeful that they [COVID vaccines] would work and unfortunately they haven't. And now with newer studies, and with time, we've seen that there are risks associated with them and especially for young adults, and that's really what we're most concerned about, is our kids," David Betten, one of the parents who signed the letter, told Newsweek on the phone on Thursday, adding that the bivalent booster should be a recommendation and not mandated.

A Fordham University spokesperson referred Newsweek to an online university statement when asked to comment about the letter.

The university said in the Wednesday statement on its website that COVID-19 "remains a public health threat" and that it still has the "capacity to shut down" Fordham campuses.

New York City has seen a daily average of 1,945 positive COVID-19 cases over the past week, according to the city's health department, which added that daily average case totals have been stable over that period.

Meanwhile, parents argued in the letter that Fordham's new COVID-19 second-booster mandate is one of the toughest pandemic policies in a city where restrictions such as masking up while using the transit system have already been loosened.

Fordham vaccine mandate, New York's toughest, sparks-criticism
Above, Fordham University's Lincoln Center campus is pictured as New York City continues Phase 4 of reopening following restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19 on August 22, 2020. A new vaccine booster mandate by the university has sparked outrage among some parents who plan to express their opposition to the campus protocol. Photo by Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

They also said that Fordham is the only Jesuit university with a bivalent booster mandate and made several other arguments in the letter, including that COVID-19 vaccines don't prevent virus transmission or prevention and that boosters pose health risks to Fordham students.

"I know that my child will not be getting it. So hopefully, the campus or the university will change the policy before then [November 1]," Betten told Newsweek, adding that the university said that it has let parents know about the mandate, but the update wasn't "highlighted anywhere."

"At the beginning of the school year, they gave the requirements and everybody that is on campus met the requirements," Betten added, stressing that parents feel surprised that this announcement came mid-semester.

However, the university said in its statement on Wednesday that the second-booster mandate was shared with all students, faculty, staff and parents on September 27, and added that Fordham has communicated the likelihood of this update to the university community and parents since April.

"New students and their parents received email regarding the vaccine requirement on June 1, 2022: 'Fordham University requires all students who are taking in-person classes, living in University housing, or entering the campus for any reason to be up to date with their COVID-19 Vaccines, which currently includes one booster dose,' and on the linked page: 'It may be necessary to require a second booster shot for eligible individuals for the 2022-2023 academic year.' New students and their parents received similar messages on July 29, August 23, and August 29," the university said in the statement.

Consequences of the New Mandate

It is not clear when exactly the mandate-opposing letter will be sent to the university, but Zachary Visconti, a student at the university's Gabelli School of Business, told Newsweek in an email on Thursday that more people are reaching out, saying that they want to help oppose the mandate.

Visconti also said that a student-only letter to the president of the school will be distributed early next week for students to sign in opposition to the requirement.

"...We are starting with a letter to express our opposition to the mandate, and we will react to Fordham's reply from there," said Visconti.

However, Visconti clarified that students opposing the mandate "are not anti-vaccine," but only want the second booster to be treated as a recommendation as per CDC guidelines instead of a mandate.

"If students refuse to get the second booster by November 1, there is not much they can do to enter campus. They can request a medical or religious exemption but those have historically been turned down and are said to be very hard to obtain. Besides that, students have no choice but to drop out, mid semester, with little to no refund because of how far along we are into the semester," the Fordham student added.

Visconti also spoke about the consequences of the mandate, saying that "Fordham requiring the booster for all students, faculty, staff and guests who want to enter campus poses an issue when it comes to outside vendors who don't require it or opposing sports teams and their spectators who also don't require it.

"Up until this point, the school has been becoming more and more lenient with their COVID policy, and this mandate is a 180-degree turnaround from their actions in the recent months," Visconti added.

Newsweek reached out to Fordham University and health experts Basmattee Boodram, an associate professor of community health sciences at the University of Illinois Chicago, and Stuart Cohen, an infectious disease professor at UC Davis, for comment.