By: Chaim Book  | 

Growing Body of YU Students, Parents Are Opposing YU’s Booster Shot Mandate

Over 1,300 people signed a petition opposing YU’s requirement for individuals to receive COVID-19 booster shots before returning to campus for the spring semester. In the days surrounding the petition's emergence, WhatsApp groups for YU students and parents were formed to allow students to “make a choice for themselves.” 

The petition, called “Say ‘No’ To Yeshiva University Mandated Booster Shots,” was created by an account under the name “Yishai Kornwasser” on Jan. 1, two days after YU informed students of the mandate. (No student contacted by The Commentator knew who Kornwasser was or whether the name was an alias.) As of publication, the petition has obtained 1,301 signatures on the petitioning platform. 

“While we respect the students who have decided to get a booster shot of their own volition, there is a plethora of YU students who do not want the booster shot forcefully injected into their bodies,” the petition says.“We recognize that if we comply yet again, the administration will never stop with the mandates. It is time to say enough is enough.” 

In its earlier complaints, the petition noted YU’s mask mandate and testing requirements this past semester for vaccinated and unvaccinated students.

Many NYC universities, such as CUNY and NYU, have mandated boosters for the upcoming semester. Throughout the country, there have been other petitions in protest of individual schools’ decisions to require the shot. Back in August, the first case to reach the Supreme Court in opposition of vaccine mandates was brought by a group of Indiana University students and was rejected. 

Two weeks ago, at the beginning of reading week, 120 students tested positive for COVID-19, broken down to 78 from Wilf Campus and 42 from Beren Campus according to YU’s COVID-19 Tracker. The week prior, 106 students tested positive. The tracker has not been updated for last week’s data.

On Friday, Dec. 31, two WhatsApp groups were formed to encourage and collaborate on working against the booster mandate — one for students and one for parents. As of publication, the student chat, called “No to forced boosters @YU,” has 114 members, and the parent chat, called “YU Parents-no force boost” has 51. There are overlapping members in both groups, and it is unclear how many, if any, are not from the YU community.

“I understand from the administrative perspective that it is an easier decision to place a mandate on the entire student population, but to require a population of people in their twenties to take a booster, including those who have had recent natural infection, is unethical,” Nerya Miller (YC ‘24), an admin on the student WhatsApp chat, told The Commentator. “This should be evaluated on a case by case basis, and the community of supposed ‘future leaders’ of the Jewish people should be trusted to make responsible decisions.” 

The chats circulated links to articles and studies suggesting the dangers of the vaccine and ethical issues with the mandate. “I’m not going to have you dictate your medical opinion over that of my own doctor. It’s irresponsible and my kid deserves better,” wrote one parent on the WhatsApp chat. 

Eventually, parents decided to take a more active role against the mandate. On the chat, many parents encouraged others to email written complaints to members of the YU administration and faculty. Several people in the parents chat created letter templates for students and parents to use, along with 17 email addresses of faculty members and administrators. 

“The latest research indicates that COVID-19 vaccines are not nearly, if at all effective in preventing the contraction or transmission of COVID-19,” the letter claimed. “As such, there is no medical basis for requiring yet another vaccination.”

In what seemed to be a response to the petition and emails, the university sent out an email Tuesday evening, Jan. 4 inviting parents and students to send in questions for a Zoom Webinar discussing the university’s policies with YU’s medical director, Dr. Robert Van Amerongen, that Thursday night. Vice Provost for Student Affairs Chaim Nissel was also on the webinar.

During the meeting, Nissel recognized the petition and the many emails that the university had been receiving but made no indication that they would have an effect on the university’s policy. Van Amerongen addressed questions and concerns that were sent in prior to the event, frequently stressing that the university is following the experts in the field, such as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Responding to one question about scientific studies suggesting dangers and ineffectiveness of the booster, Van Amerongen said, “We base a lot on the national consensus amongst what the true experts on the field agree on.” He added that the university does account for medical exemptions when applicable.

 “There is not an ‘us’ against ‘them’ kind of attitude perceived in any of our meetings,” he said. “When we think about these policy procedures we are not necessarily thinking about each individual student per se, although of course students are our main priority. But we also have to take into consideration all the other people that make Yeshiva University Yeshiva University.” 

After the Zoom, students and parents on the chats were upset that live questions were not taken.

Other students are upset about the pushback against the booster mandate. “This was not an appeal to weigh costs or consider other factors — just whining about perceived ‘promises,’” commented Ephraim Meiri (YC ‘24). “The issue with this is not just that the basis is utter fiction, but that the author and signatories seem to be unable or unwilling to weigh their own minor frustration against the well-being of those in their immediate vicinity.” 

Yonah Moise (YC ‘23) agreed. “Because I am immunocompromised and at higher risk of severe illness, I got my third dose before the Fall semester began, wear an N95 mask for over 10 hours on the average day on campus, and eat meals in my room,” he said. “I don’t see why getting a booster and taking safety precautions such as masking seem problematic for my fellow students.”

He added, “This lack of concern for others weakens the communal bonds that I valued at YU before the pandemic.”

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Jan. 11 to include another sentence of Meiri's quote.

Photo Caption: (L-R) Parent and student WhatsApp chats

Photo Credit: The Commentator