An AFLDS Issue Brief for Citizens, Policymakers and Physicians
STATEMENT OF POSITION
On March 25, Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway announced the school’s intention to mandate the experimental COVID-19 vaccine on campus: “[W]ith limited exceptions, all students planning to attend in the Fall 2021 semester must be fully vaccinated.”
After Rutgers became the first US college to require the injection for nearly all new and returning members of its student body, over a dozen residential postsecondary schools followed. Brown University’s president recently sent a letter to the Ivy League school’s students informing them of the new mandatory vaccination policy without actually describing how such a verification system might work. In a similar way, Northeastern University’s chancellor said all students receiving in-person instruction in the fall academic year will need to show proof of vaccination or have been issued an exemption, without including information on how students could obtain an exemption under the new policy.
It’s also not clear that these proposed mandates will be confined to private institutions like Rutgers and Brown. While the University of North Carolina and University of Oregon have publicly come out against the requirement, “leaders at both institutions expressed that may be adjusted as guidelines change or more institutions get on board,” according to published reports. California’s public university system is governed by a board of regents, technically putting it outside the direct control of governors like Texas’s Greg Abbott who in recent days took action to shield public-school students and others from so-called “vaccine passport” disclosure requirements.
America’s Frontline Doctors (AFLDS) opposes attempts by public and private postsecondary institutions requiring students seeking in-person learning or campus housing to first receive a COVID-19 inoculation. This AFLDS Issue Brief is intended to provide background on the practical concerns raised by such a vaccination mandate as well as direct citizens to legal remedies which they may be inclined to pursue.
The consequences for inaction in the face of radical COVID-mitigation policies is real: since the pandemic began, thousands of students have been threatened with suspension and expulsion while others face justice via student-led coronavirus tribunals merely for bending social-distancing rules.
COLLEGE-AGE ADULTS ARE NOT AN AT-RISK GROUP
Serious illness and death are exceedingly rare among younger coronavirus patients with no underlying conditions. In its analysis of COVID-19 vaccines, AFLDS notes that CDC survival rates among the 0-19 as well as the 20-49-year-old cohorts, even before therapeutics became widely available, were over 99%. Indeed, viral lethality in the United States continues to be highest for those 85 and older. Furthermore, the evidence for a spike in deaths among vulnerable populations living nearby college campuses remains incomplete at best.
PROBLEMS OF IMPLEMENTATION & ENFORCEMENT
The real-world barriers to campus-wide vaccine mandates are many. These issues range from what to do about out-of-state and international students to those attending night classes to debates over medical privacy. And, of course, all of this is being discussed in the absence of a fully licensed COVID-19 immunization.
Acknowledging these difficulties, a few schools have decided to “nudge” current students in the direction of getting a vaccine while falling short of actually requiring one in order to live on campus or participate in classroom learning. Global mandates affecting every member of the student body also ignore informed consent rules for experimental treatments and biotechnology – unwisely, since colleges and universities are already attempting to manage a host of lawsuits and bad press related to closed campuses and remote learning.
Vaccine-mandating institutions also increase the likelihood of circulating fraudulent vaccination documentation, a target considered “ripe” for exploitation by officials. It’s similarly unclear whether a school will be required to report its vaccination information to a state’s health-department database and what HIPAA violations this action could expose the college or university to.
ROLLING BACK THE MANDATE ROLLOUT
What can students and parents do if they oppose these mandatory vaccinations? Legal experts advising some schools appear to rest their argument in favor of a requirement on a 1925 case involving smallpox immunization. While a judge upheld that mandate, the COVID vaccine policy would be the first to include an experimental biological agent.
Know your rights. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, every state provides a vaccine exemption for medical reasons, and approximately a third allow exemptions for religious and personal beliefs.
AFLDS also provides concerned citizens with an editable informational letter on its website describing why employers and schools cannot impose an experimental vaccine on employees and students. Its Civil Liberties White Paper provides context about the serious implications for human rights if COVID-19 vaccines are mandated. A Legal Resources page directs students and others to additional tools such as legal referrals. The US Supreme Court has also signaled with recent rulings that its justices are more sympathetic to arguments of religious liberty than perhaps the high court has been in the past.
CONCLUSION: LESSON LEARNED?
The vast majority of US postsecondary students are not at risk from severe symptoms, hospitalization, and death due to COVID-19. Community spread originating on campus has not been proven. Regarded in this light, requiring proof of vaccination for the fall 2021 school semester poses a number of medical and legal problems for higher education.
While it is accurate that certain vaccines can be required under the law, the unlicensed status of the three COVID vaccines currently in use obviates the authority of a college or university from issuing a mandate. AFLDS recommends that parents and students closely study exemption policies at their school and seek out legal remedies if necessary to preserve their medical privacy and prevent discrimination.