Fordham University faces opposition over its COVID-19 double-booster mandate

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.
Photo Aliya Schneider

Heading into the 2022-23 school year, all of New York’s public and private university and college systems rolled back much of their COVID-19 mandates and requirements — except Fordham University.

The school is the only college or university in New York state requiring all of its students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated and receive two booster shots by Nov. 1 or face possible expulsion from the university, the Bronx Times has learned.

In response, a parent-led group is planning to hold a rally outside Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx on Friday, while university officials continue to stand firm in their position.

Fordham University officials told the Bronx Times Thursday that students or staff not in compliance with the university mandate without granted exemptions — announced in a Sept. 26 email — will be “barred, disenrolled, or dismissed” from campus.

But a university spokesperson said there’s a long road between the mandated Nov. 1 deadline and possible expulsion for those who don’t comply.

“For one thing, people who’ve either had COVID recently or received the monovalent booster recently, you have 60 to 90 days to get the bivalent booster. For another, people have trouble uploading their documents or forget, and there will be plenty of contact with those individuals before anyone is excluded from campus,” said Bob Howe, a Fordham University spokesperson. “Assuming they don’t apply for and receive an exemption, then eventually they would be barred from campus: disenrolled or dismissed. But, as I said, there is a long off-ramp before that point … I would also stress that we do have a well-established exemption process.”

Fordham University boasts three campuses, including two in New York City and one in Westchester County. Photo courtesy Getty Images

Fordham’s vaccine policy applies to all of its campuses, which also includes Lincoln Center in Manhattan and West Harrison in Westchester.

The school’s policy comes at a unique time — 2.5 years after COVID-19 upended routine life in March 2020 — where enforcement of public health policy is at constant odds with a portion of the public looking to put the pandemic-related measures in the rearview mirror.

Data from No College Mandates, a project opposing college vaccine requirements that documents institutions’ vaccine policies, show that fewer than 20 colleges and universities across the U.S. have mandated the new booster this fall. But still some colleges and universities have remained steadfast in their vaccine mandates, like Harvard, Tufts, Smith College, the University of California system, Monmouth University and the College of Wooster, who require the bivalent booster.

Fordham students such as freshmen Rachel Waltz and Jordan Kemp, who are in compliance with the double-booster requirement, say they trust the science and recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and wonder why other universities aren’t also implementing mandates such as Fordham’s.

The university’s decision has drawn backlash from a parent-led group, Fordham Parents Together, which plans to hold a rally in front of the Jesuit university’s Bronx campus, and just this week sent a letter to Tania Christina Tetlow, the new university president.

The letter, which garnered nearly 1,200 signatures, is an effort largely by parents but with support from students, alumni and staff members, arguing that Fordham’s communication of the mandate came three weeks after students had already paid tuition, moved into dorms and started classes — and not given enough notice to comply by Nov. 1.

Fordham’s fall semester started on Aug. 31.

Tania Christina Tetlow was named the new president of Fordham University. Her tenure began on July 1. Photo courtesy Fordham University

Some students against the policy say they are not anti-vaccine, rather undergraduate students like Zachary Visconti are concerned that Fordham’s mandate overreaches and doesn’t align with New York’s other university networks that have eschewed their vaccination mandates and subsequent non-compliance consequences heading into the 2022-23 school year.

“We are not anti-vax, just against Fordham requiring this booster. We would rather them recommend it instead,” Visconti said. “Our view is that … (if) mask and vaccine mandates rarely exist and less than 4% of people in the U.S. have this updated booster, why can’t Fordham get back to normal without this booster as well?”

Fordham’s messaging regarding its vaccination policies — despite claims from parents who said they didn’t become aware of the policy until this month — was updated on its website back on April 1, noting that the university would require students, faculty and staff to be fully up-to-date, as defined by the CDC.

In September, the CDC updated its COVID-19 booster guidelines, replacing monovalent vaccines — effective against only one strain of the virus — with the new bivalent vaccines, which are effective against two major strains of the virus.

While there had been discontent regarding CUNY schools vaccine mandates last year, particularly over sanctions by the schools for noncompliance, a survey conducted by the American College Health Association found that college students were far more likely than the general adult population of the same age group to be fully vaccinated and that campus mandates increased vaccination rates.

“I think that some (universities and colleges) were afraid of the backlash that they’ll get from parents on another year of vaccine mandates, so they probably lessened them to curry favor,” said an monovalent Fordham faculty member, who plans to get the second booster prior to the Nov. 1 deadline. “I hadn’t though about getting the booster but when they sent it out, I was less concerned about fighting it, and doing what’s best for my students.”

The FDA approved bivalent doses for individuals over the age of 12 — and recently bivalents for children as young as six  — with 11.5 million eligible Americans having already gotten the shots, according to data released last week by the CDC.

The day that Fordham’s policy kicks in on Nov.1, New York City plans to lift its private-sector COVID-19 vaccine mandate. This Friday, the Supreme Court is set to hold a conference to consider an NYPD detective’s challenge to the city’s vaccine mandate for municipal workers.

Correction: Updated on Oct. 13 at 9:31 p.m. This article previously stated that the university’s fall requirement was two bivalent booster shots instead of one.  

Reach Robbie Sequeira at [email protected] or (718) 260-4599. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes