Fordham University faces potential lawsuit over booster vaccine mandate

Community members protest Fordham University's updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate.
School community members protest Fordham University’s updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate at a Friday, Oct. 14 rally outside the Rose Hill campus in the Bronx.
Photo Adrian Childress

A Long Island law group is prepared to file suit against Fordham University if the school doesn’t rescind its bivalent COVID-19 booster mandate, according to the owner of the firm. 

James Mermigis — senior partner and owner of the Mermigis Law Group — co-authored a letter to Fordham University President Tania Tetlow over the weekend imploring her to “give serious consideration” to the school’s bivalent mandate in order to “avoid litigation.”

Mermigis told the Bronx Times on Monday that the university is violating students’ rights with its updated vaccine policy, specifically by changing course while the school year is already underway. 

“They announce this after everyone has began their semester, after everyone has paid their tuition,” he said. “That’s a breach of an implied contract.” 

Fordham University officials told the Bronx Times in a previous interview that students and staff received an email on Sept. 26, which outlined the updated COVID vaccine mandate policy: that students, faculty and staff must have their full primary vaccine series as well as two additional booster shots by Nov. 1. Those who don’t come comply by that deadline, officials said, would be “barred, disenrolled or dismissed” from campus.

The university hadn’t replied to multiple phone, email and text requests for comment as of Tuesday morning.

Fordham University faces a potential lawsuit over its updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate.
Fordham University faces a potential lawsuit over its updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate, which requires all students, faculty and staff to be compliant by Nov. 1. Photo Aliya Schneider

The Bronx Times previously reported that Fordham is the only college or university in New York state to require the updated booster for its students, faculty and staff on each of its three campuses — in the Bronx, Manhattan and Westchester. Most higher education institutions across the country have eased COVID-related policies, although a minority — like Harvard, Tufts, Smith College, the University of California system, Monmouth University and the College of Wooster — are mandating the bivalent shots similarly to Fordham.

According to the university’s website, even though students, faculty and staff are required to be fully up-to-date as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), officials will “continue to consider medical and religious” exemptions. The Bronx Times also previously reported the institution first updated its guidance online back on April 1.

In the six-page letter sent to Fordham, the Mermigis Law Group cited multiple reasons it would be willing to take up the case and argued that there is insufficient data supporting the efficacy of the new bivalent boosters.

“If Fordham continues with this, they’re conducting a science experiment on these students,” Mermigis told the Bronx Times on Monday. “This is ridiculous, it’s overkill, it’s almost three years (since) COVID began.”

The CDC recommends most people ages 5 and older complete their primary COVID vaccine series — two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech, Novavax or Moderna, or one dose of Johnson & Johnson/Janssen — as well as an updated bivalent booster dose.

Bivalent boosters — made only by Pfizer or Moderna — protect against both the original COVID virus and the Omicron variant, according to the CDC. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Aug. 31 it was amending its prior emergency use authorization of Pfizer and Moderna boosters to now include bivalent formulations of the shot, and the updated boosters became available to the public on Sept. 2.

According to the Associated Press, the FDA approved the bivalent boosters without testing on people first, just as the agency authorizes yearly updates to flu vaccines without human test results.

But Fordham has been met with opposition since its vaccine policy change. 

Some members of the school community protested the move outside of the Rose Hill campus in the Bronx on Oct. 14, and a parent-led group called Fordham Parents Together sent a 1,200-signature letter to the university president earlier this month urging the school administration to repeal the policy — stating the mandate is “erroneous, misguided (and) unethical,” and that it discriminates against students “based on their choice.”

The Fordham Parents Together group had not responded to an interview request by Tuesday morning.

Community members protest Fordham University's updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate.
Fordham University parents and students protest the school’s updated COVID-19 bivalent vaccine mandate. Photo Adrian Childress

Mermigis has been branded the “anti-shutdown” lawyer in New York City since 2020 — filing lawsuits on behalf of restaurants, gyms, theaters, and other small businesses that were forced to close their doors in the earlier days of the pandemic. The Syosset attorney also represented nine police officers who faced termination after the NYPD denied their religious exemptions for COVID vaccination.

The letter to Fordham from the law group demanded a response from the university by 5 p.m. on Monday. Otherwise, Mermigis said, he and his team would “prepare a lawsuit.”

“None of these students signed up for this,” he said. “To me it’s intolerable, unacceptable and disgusting.” 

As of 11:10 a.m. Tuesday, Mermigis said he had not received a reply from Fordham.

This article was updated at 1:06 p.m. on Oct. 26 to specify that bivalent COVID-19 booster vaccines are approved by the FDA for emergency use.

Reach Camille Botello at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes