SUNY ditches COVID vaccine mandate, symbolizing the beginning of the end of the pandemic

Students are seen leaving Manhattan College in Riverdale on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.
Students are seen leaving Manhattan College in Riverdale on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023. Effective May 20, 2023, Manhattan College will no longer require COVID-19 vaccinations.
Photo Camille Botello

The State University of New York (SUNY) system announced Tuesday it would be rescinding its COVID-19 vaccine mandates come summertime, signaling a new beginning for college students in the Bronx and across the state in what officials hope is a post-pandemic world. 

“The safety of SUNY’s students is our first and foremost priority, and while COVID is no longer an emergency, we will not lose sight of the impact it continues to have on us,” said SUNY Chancellor John King Jr. in the announcement Tuesday. “Across SUNY we will continue to monitor cases and make adjustments as needed, but even more importantly, we will look to increase the overall health and wellness support we provide our students.”

The system will continue to encourage students to get vaccinated against COVID and will also continue to monitor COVID data, as well as update requirements in response to changes in conditions or changes of state, federal or local policies.

The change comes after President Joe Biden announced an end to the COVID national emergency by signing a bipartisan congressional resolution on Monday, according to the Associated Press, just over three years since the pandemic took flight in March 2020. 

The pandemic disrupted the American education system drastically in 2020 and 2021 — sending swaths of kids home for remote learning. And for college students, many had to make some of their most prolific early adult transitions completely online.

Even with the new SUNY policy, however, some City University of New York institutions, community colleges and private schools in the Bronx are maintaining their vaccination policies.   

As of Tuesday, College of Mount Saint Vincent, Lehman College, Mercy College, Hostos Community College and Bronx Community College still required students to be fully vaccinated against COVID. 

But some, like Manhattan College and Fordham University, had already begun rolling back their restrictions before the SUNY announcement Tuesday. 

In an email to students on April 3, Goldie Adele — Manhattan College’s chief compliance officer — alerted the campus of its change in policy.  

“Starting May 20th, the college will no longer require COVID-19 vaccinations,” Adele wrote in the email. “Everyone is strongly encouraged to get vaccinated and stay up to date, and to provide this information to the college.” 

Adele noted that individuals are still responsible for their own COVID quarantine costs, and that the college still encourages residential students to test before moving to campus this summer and next fall.   

Fordham University also announced it will not require campus members or visitors to be vaccinated against COVID starting May 15. That comes after months of pushback and threat of litigation over its bivalent booster dose mandate.  

Monroe College rescinded its COVID vaccine mandate for the “majority” of students effective July 1, 2022. Spokesperson Jackie Ruegger told the Bronx Times that coincided with the transmissibility of the omicron variant, as well as the prevalence of breakthrough cases.

“By the time the ‘omicron’ variant became dominant, the term ‘breakthrough case’ became obsolete,” Ruegger said. “Being vaccinated no longer had an absolute impact on transmissibility. The medical community found that a vaccinated person who contracted COVID carried the same viral load as an unvaccinated person.”

For Monroe students in clinical programs — such as nursing, diagnostic medical sonography and education — vaccination is still required.    

According to the state Department of Health, as of Monday the average percent of positive daily COVID tests was just 2.3%. That’s compared to the Jan. 7, 2022 peak of 21.2%.

This article was updated on April 12 at 5:15 p.m. to include comments from Monroe College about the school’s decision to rescind their vaccination policy in 2022. 

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