Fordham’s Bivalent Booster Requirement is Ethically Bankrupt


Fordham must rethink their mandate on the bivalent booster vaccination policy. (Courtesy of Ava Erickson/The Fordham Ram)

By late September in NYC, it seemed clear that life was finally returning to normal. Biden announced the pandemic’s end, with the leader of the WHO nearly ready to do the same. NYC ended its vaccine mandate for private companies and the masking requirement on trains and buses.

Of course, COVID-19 is still present around the world. Luckily, its predominant form is the omicron variant, which is much less virulent than the previously circulating delta variant. It was with some surprise, then, that I reacted to Fordham’s email stating it was going to mandate the new bivalent booster for all individuals on campus.

As someone who peripherally follows the literature surrounding the pandemic, it seemed clear by all accounts that while the first booster vaccine bolstered immunity in certain populations, it did not prevent infection or transmission altogether. This distinction was made clear to most of us first-hand last winter, when we all lined up to receive the first booster shot, mandated by Fordham, with the lofty idea that high circulating levels of neutralizing antibodies would help us dodge the next wave. Our hopes were quickly shattered when omicron ripped through NYC and seemingly no one was spared, regardless of the number of shots they got. Luckily, in addition to omicron being less severe, the original vaccine doses provide lasting and robust protection against severe outcomes even with this newer, more transmissible variant. 

As the dust of the omicron wave settled and we brushed ourselves off, it became clear — as a result of CDC data and peer-reviewed studies on the vaccine — that health benefits achieved by receiving boosters are population-specific. The data shows that elderly and at-risk populations enjoyed a reduced risk of hospitalization from a coronavirus infection, while clinically-relevant protection in young healthy individuals was undetectable. 

In addition to having the least to gain from boosters, young healthy individuals, males especially, appear to have the most to lose. Research indicates that boosters come with a risk for myopericarditis in young males about nine cases per 100,000 doses. Given this information, the reasonable approach to this new booster seems obvious: Individuals should evaluate their own risk to benefit ratio based on their health status and the available evidence, and decide whether the booster is right for them. A similar sentiment was expressed by Dr. Paul Offit, a member of the FDA’s Vaccine Advisory Panel, who voted against the emergency use authorization of the new booster, citing a lack of efficacy data to support broad approval. 

Thinking I must have been missing some important medical information, I contacted Fordham’s administration, asking which evidence they considered in reaching this decision. I was met with an unfortunately lazy, copy-paste answer from Bob Howe, associate vice president for Communications. “We follow CDC advice for the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff. As an institution that practices care for the whole person, we can’t do otherwise,” wrote Howe. Given the FDA’s and CDC’s perverse financial incentives to keep the booster train rolling along, I was thoroughly unsatisfied with this answer. I reminded Howe that the CDC makes a plethora of health recommendations, including target BMI ranges and routine STD screenings based on an individual’s sex and sexual orientation.Yet university administration does not attribute these guidelines as being a necessary prerequisite for enrollment or employment, despite the positive health consequences such mandates would have on the community. 

While I never heard back from Howe, my disappointment with him and the administration intensified when he justified the mandate in an interview by erroneously citing a “significant body of evidence that the bivalent booster significantly reduces the risk of transmission.” This is an outright lie, given data on the bivalent booster’s effects on recipients has not been published (the referenced study was performed before the booster’s rollout); and there is still a chance that bivalent booster recipients will still become infected and transmit COVID-19. Such haphazard communication demonstrates the university’s thoughtlessness when it comes to this mandate. These misleading comments will not inspire confidence when I line up for the booster, which less than 5% of eligible Americans have taken, in order to maintain my access to campus. 

I am not alone in my misgivings about Fordham’s bivalent booster mandate. The policy has stirred a vitriolic response on Twitter, driven in large part by attention from University of California San Francisco’s Dr. Vinay Prasad and Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. Marty Markary, who both pointed out the lack of safety and efficacy data for the new booster in their critique of Fordham’s policy. A group of Fordham parents, alumni, faculty and students have also expressed their disappointment with the mandate in a signed letter to newly inaugurated President Tania Tetlow which cites many of the critiques mentioned in this article. 

Ethical justifications of mandates relied on vaccines preventing transmission and thus offering community-wide protection. Since the same can’t be said for this booster, this specific mandate is ethically unjustifiable. If a young and healthy Fordham student reluctantly gets this booster to comply with the mandate and suffers a vaccine-related injury, neither Fordham, the FDA, the CDC, Pfizer or Moderna will be liable. Saddest of all, myself and this student’s other young and healthy peers will likely have nothing to show for it. Recent data indicates we will be no safer from getting hospitalized. When our neutralizing antibodies inevitably wane or a new variant emerges we will still get infected. We will still get sick.

If this article resonates with you, please take this opportunity to remind Fordham’s administration that you prefer to make decisions about your own health autonomously, not having “choices” forced on you without adequate, evidence-based justification. 

Devin Rocks, GSAS ’23, is a biological sciences major on the cell and molecular track from Queens, NY.