University of Michigan COVID-19 Booster Mandate
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January 22, 2022
Dear President Coleman,
We – the University of Michigan students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni and friends - are writing this urgent letter to state our opposition to the University of Michigan’s mandate that all students, faculty and staff receive a COVID-19 booster vaccine by February 4, 2022 as a condition of remaining enrolled or employed at the University.
We are not anti-booster or anti-vaccination. We are for objectively evaluating data and respecting the rights of those in the University of Michigan community to determine their personal risk from COVID-19 and make their own medical decisions.
When the booster mandate was announced on December 17th, little was known about the risk posed by the Omicron variant. Since then, evidence from within and outside the University confirms that in highly vaccinated populations like the UofM community, Omicron causes a generally mild upper respiratory illness. A recent study, co-authored by the CDC’s COVID-19 Response Team, reported that out of 52,000+ Omicron cases, 0.35% were hospitalized, 0.01% required intensive care, none required mechanical ventilation, and one individual died. For those hospitalized, the median length of stay was 1.5 days, a 70% reduction compared to Delta variant cases. Closer to home, Dr. Desmond stated in the Jan 14th COVID-19 briefing that the number of hospitalized COVID-19 cases at Michigan Medicine is expected to peak by the end of January. What then does the booster mandate accomplish? Initial fears around the burden Omicron may cause have not materialized, yet the University has not revisited their mandate decision.
COVID-19 vaccines formulated against a SARS-CoV-2 strain prevalent two years ago have not effectively prevented infection with or transmission of the Omicron variant. This undercuts the core argument for a booster mandate in a population with close to zero risk of severe COVID-19 outcomes. UofM is mandating a booster formulation that will be obsolete within weeks of many being inoculated, as Pfizer and Moderna have both announced a March release of Omicron-specific formulations. Will the University require this booster as well?
Perhaps of most concern, booster inoculations themselves are not without risk, particularly for young adults. Early signals of heart inflammation related to the mRNA vaccines, and clotting issues related to the J&J vaccine are getting stronger with time. A University of Oxford study of 42 million vaccinated UK residents reported a doubling of myocarditis risk with each Pfizer dose for males under 40, with nearly four times the number of myocarditis cases following a 3rd (booster) dose than occurred following COVID-19 illness; after a 2nd Moderna dose, more than 8 times the number of myocarditis cases occurred compared to those with prior COVID-19. The authors concluded that their study has “important implications for public health and vaccination policy.” Since last October, at least eight countries have either banned or recommended against the administration of Moderna’s COVID-19 to young adults.
Adverse events following vaccination also occur more frequently among those with prior COVID infection compared to COVID-naive individuals. The NCAA's updated COVID-19 guidelines for winter sports include: “A person who has had a documented COVID-19 infection in the past 90 days is considered the equivalent of ‘fully vaccinated’” (defined as a primary series plus booster dose). At the very least, we urge UofM leadership to adopt this science-based approach, which will spare many students recovering from Omicron infections from unnecessary adverse effects.
A stated reason for the booster mandate was that it would allow for in-person instruction in the winter term but the majority of Big-10 universities have encouraged rather than mandated booster doses. Michigan joins only MSU, Illinois, Northwestern, Rutgers and Maryland in requiring boosters. Ohio State, Iowa, Penn State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Minnesota, Indiana and Purdue are all holding in-person classes despite the lack of a booster mandate. A booster mandate is not a necessary prerequisite to holding in-person classes, but rather a choice made by UofM administrators.
The University has done little to explain the need and ethical justification for this mandate or provide assurance that the differential risk vs. benefit of booster doses across the UofM community has been carefully evaluated. Instead, coercive vaccine mandates are becoming normalized at UofM. It is disappointing that the University feels empowered to force a choice between a job or diploma and taking a medical treatment for which limited long-term safety data are available. This unnecessarily adds to the emotional distress the UofM community, particularly students, have endured for the past two years. We urge you to rescind this harmful and unnecessary mandate.
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