(Brownstone)—Almost four years after the start of the Covid pandemic, and healthcare students are still subject to some of the most oppressive and coercive vaccine mandates ever declared. Despite the fact that there has not been one documented Covid case on college campuses in the last four years that led to either an outbreak of severe illness or death from Covid, thousands of students are forced to decide whether to take a vaccine that they do not need or walk away from the degree for which they have invested tens of thousands of dollars and countless hours due to coercive policies the likes of which we have never seen before. The “winter of death” never came to pass and neither did the spring or fall of death, but healthcare students all around the country have no choice; take updated Covid vaccines or withdraw from your program as if these seasons of death might still come to pass.
Every week, desperate emails bombard our Inbox. They are from students and families who are in utter disbelief. The students have been notified that they cannot continue to clinical rotations and practicums without proof of having taken the latest Covid booster. Many of these students have advanced to the final years of their graduate programs only to find they are prevented from completing clinical rotations which are the last steps in earning their degrees.
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Adding insult to injury, in many cases the colleges that accepted these students have previously granted them Covid vaccine exemptions. In Pennsylvania, a healthcare student can secure an exemption for enrollment to study for a healthcare degree at the University of Pennsylvania or the University of Pittsburgh, but that same student cannot be placed in clinical rotations in the private University of Pennsylvania Health System or the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center unless they show proof of updated Covid vaccinations. York College in Pennsylvania is a rare exception to this rule, as we have learned they will help nursing students find clinical partners that either do not mandate or coerce students into taking unwanted and unnecessary updated Covid vaccines or they will accept exemptions.
Who exactly is responsible for these continued mandates that so unjustly threaten the hopes and dreams of healthcare students?
The answer is not entirely clear. On the same day President Biden announced the end of the federal state of emergency, May 11, 2022, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced it would “soon end” the CMS-certified facility Covid vaccine mandate, and indeed it has ended. In theory, this would have put an end to all US healthcare worker Covid vaccine mandates.
But there are loopholes, and those involve state laws which can still allow or prohibit healthcare facilities from mandating that employees take Covid vaccines. What about healthcare students? Well, they are subject to the dictates of the college administrators who oversee healthcare students and the clinical facility, and nearly all healthcare programs and the clinical facilities that contract with them seem to be keeping Covid vaccine mandates in place for these students even if those same colleges and clinical sites allow exemptions for faculty and staff.
A healthcare program administrator from Minnesota State College Southeast (MCS) emailed a prospective student explaining that “some faculty choose not to teach in programs unless that program requires student Covid-19 vaccinations. Faculty who work at MCS have been informed that they will be working with vaccinated students and a change in policy would require time for them to decide if they will continue teaching for our program.”
Why do these administrators refuse to inform their faculty that a student’s Covid vaccine does absolutely nothing to protect that faculty member from contracting Covid for which they likely took multiple vaccines to keep themselves safe? Instead, they kowtow to frantically fearful faculty that might walk off the job if the students are not vaccinated. In some clinical trial facilities, these same Covid vaccine requirements no longer apply to faculty or staff, but the students pose such grave threats that faculty will walk off the job before they will allow those students to refuse Covid vaccines. It is futile to try to make sense of it.
In New Jersey, a group of healthcare students has filed a class action lawsuit against Rowan College in Burlington County (Rowan) for refusing to consider their religious exemptions. The complaint alleges that under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, Rowan is “required to provide students the opportunity to request a religious exemption from any vaccination requirement,” and in refusing to consider such exemptions, they are discriminating against them. The plaintiffs each received emails from Rowan stating that they do not consider religious exemptions as their clinical partners require Covid vaccines, but John Coyle, lead attorney in the case, explained that blaming the New Jersey clinical partner is a “shell game.”
For example, one student, Josef Bonilla, received his rotation placement at Virtua Voorhees Hospital (Virtua). In July, Virtua posted on their website that they would consider “reasonable requests” for religious and medical exemptions. In August, Josef wrote Virtua to confirm that he could file for a religious exemption. Virtua responded that it was “the responsibility of Rowan to evaluate his request for religious exemption” and if granted, they would honor it. Josef forwarded this information to Rowan and a few days later, he was disenrolled from his program. At least two of the plaintiffs were in their final semesters at Rowan, after having invested tens of thousands of dollars and several years towards their degrees, and both were disenrolled. The student plaintiffs are hoping to recover damages.
In Los Angeles County, the Department of Public Health department announced that effective December 27, 2023 all healthcare workers are mandated to take the updated 2023-2024 Covid vaccine or sign a letter of declination. In a continued effort to coerce as many as possible to take updated vaccines, the order also states that the unvaccinated are “at higher risk of contracting…COVID-19 but can also transmit these viruses to their coworkers and patients” – statements that have long been proven untrue. If healthcare workers decline the latest vaccine, they must wear a mask for 6 months during the “annual respiratory season” from November 1-April 30th. So, if healthcare workers in LA County can decline the latest Covid vaccine, can the students also decline it? It doesn’t appear that students have this option.
Through correspondence and conversations with some of the California State Universities (CSUs) and California Community College nursing programs, our volunteers have been told that the colleges are the entities responsible for keeping the Covid mandates in place for healthcare students. The majority of clinical trial sites in California still have Covid vaccine mandates for healthcare students, and the universities have stated they align their policies with the clinical site that has the strictest student mandate in place. One CSU department chair went as far as to say, “until 100% of their clinical sites drop the Covid vaccine requirement, our department will still require it.”
We also learned that the CSUs have the ability to place students at sites that have either ended their Covid vaccine mandates or allow for exemptions, but they claim they do not have the system or resources to match students to available sites equitably if they allow exemptions. Why would they be motivated to honor the exemptions as the majority of the faculty and staff have been vaccinated, and they still hold steadfast to the belief that being vaccinated “protects the vulnerable populations they serve?” Additionally, in LA County, healthcare workers have been eligible to decline the flu vaccine since 2013 (as long as they follow masking requirements), but students applying to universities that partner with clinical sites in LA County are not offered the same declination option.
In Ventura County, CA (Ventura), proof of the Covid vaccine is no longer required for healthcare workers. In positive news, at Ventura County Medical Center (VCMC), the mandatory form that healthcare students must complete attesting to their vaccine status no longer lists the Covid vaccine as a requirement. Although there may be some private sites in Ventura that still require student interns to show proof of their Covid vaccinations, this demonstrates that colleges in Ventura do have options to place students in clinical programs if they chose to decline vaccination. That said, healthcare students in Ventura are still waiting for clarity from their programs on whether they will need formal exemptions from the Covid vaccine or need to sign a declination form and follow protocols if they decline it.
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More positive news; California nursing programs at Moorpark College, CSU-Long Beach, and CSU-Northridge confirmed that they have received notice that clinical partners are updating their requirements whereby some will no longer require proof of Covid vaccination or are allowing for students to sign a declination letter for the updated Covid vaccine. In most cases, those that decline the Covid vaccination will be required to wear a mask for the 6 months of the flu season.
The only Covid vaccines that are currently available are the last approved booster, and no one wants them. According to Bloomberg, “Pfizer is struggling because not enough people are getting annual Covid shots. The problem is that the boosters aren’t very effective.” Most of the general public are refusing additional Covid shots, but healthcare students don’t have this luxury. It doesn’t help that Pfizer funds programs at the colleges that are critical partners in enforcing the requirements of the clinical site facilities.
It is nothing short of cruel and entirely unscientific that healthcare programs continue to coerce this overwhelmingly healthy and captive young adult population to take these novel vaccines. Vaccines that they never needed, for which they were never given informed consent, that never could have prevented them from severe illness and death because they were never at such risks – all of which Pfizer and the CDC knew before one college ever mandated Covid vaccines for any student.
Most of our sources have asked to remain anonymous as they have either retained lawyers to help them fight these clinical programs, or the students have taken leaves of absence with the hope of returning in one year to complete their final requirements. Some students are looking to transfer to other programs, and some are stuck with credits that will not transfer, leaving them with sunk costs that are simply too much to shoulder.
Please consider taking action in your own county. Some of our volunteers have made tremendous progress by emailing/calling their local Board of Supervisors because they directly oversee the Public Health Director and the Directors of the county hospitals. In California, many of the Supervisors, who are up for reelection, were surprised that healthcare students are subject to separate and in some cases much more onerous requirements than faculty and staff at public health facilities, and they are getting involved to help change these policies.
I have worked tirelessly to encourage healthcare students to share their stories, but they feel they can’t because they fear the risks of exposing themselves are far too great if they ever hope to finish their degrees. Until then you have me, telling as much of their stories as I can without a face, a name, or the level of ridicule, judgment, and discrimination they have had to suffer to enter the healthcare professions. How tragic that these professions were once the epitome of service to others; professions that we trusted to keep us healthy and thriving. Extinguishing the dreams of students called to heal others is perhaps the most diabolical of all agendas, and I am beginning to believe an agenda is exactly what this is.
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About the Author
Lucia is a recovering corporate securities attorney. After becoming a mother, Lucia turned her attention to fighting inequities in public schools in California for students with learning disabilities. She co-founded NoCollegeMandates.com to help fight college vaccine mandates.