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Surprise! Colleges accused of blindsiding students with COVID vax mandates for clinical rotations

New Jersey is a hotbed of surreptitious mandates for nursing students, according to anti-mandate nursing group and lawyer. Students write Great Barrington Declaration successor for their generation.

Published: October 24, 2023 11:01pm

Updated: October 25, 2023 4:39pm

Like the cassette music format among hipsters, COVID-19 vaccine mandates live on in select educational settings. 

Students may not be told until they're already well into a program, however.

Anti-mandate groups, lawyers and parents are claiming that students whose vaccine status didn't prove a problem in their healthcare programs are being given the ultimatum to either get jabbed or face removal once they reach clinical rotations, though it's not clear how many of the directives are in writing.

Informed Nurses NJ said it knows of "hundreds" of unvaccinated students removed from New Jersey institutions upon clinical rotations. Attorney John Coyle shared his lawsuits filed this year on behalf of students against Rowan College at Burlington County, Ramapo College and Hackensack Meridian Health, which operates JFK University Medical Center Muhlenberg.

While "almost every" nursing program in New Jersey refuses to grant vaccine exemptions, "some of them back down when [students] hire a lawyer," Coyle told Just the News. He singled out Rowan as a serial violator for "making up requirements" for its clinical partners that they have denied when students ask.

Hackensack Meridian Health told Just the News it couldn't respond Tuesday. “The college does not comment on matters of pending litigation," RCBC solicitor Kelly Grant wrote in an email Wednesday. "It remains that the college consistently upholds all aspects of the law.” Ramapo didn't respond.

New Jersey's Rutgers is one of the highest profile universities nationwide still mandating vaccination for all students, and clinical students must go even further: primary series, booster and "updated (bivalent)" dose. 

Lawyer Dana Wefer told Just the News she also fought a requirement at Ramapo, going so far as obtaining "contracts between university and hospital" via open records request "to prove they could accommodate my client."

The group No College Mandates said it has heard from students in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin but told Just the News it's rare to get a directive in writing or sometimes even the name of the school.

"Students reach out me, then get scared and go dark," cofounder Lucia Sinatra said. 

She also said an "anonymous nurse administrator" reached out to say York College students can get exemptions for their clinical rotations with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and Wellspan, but it is "not easy getting this info in writing." 

Sinatra scrounged up one from North Carolina's Central Piedmont Community College. Dental Hygiene Program Director Brenda Sanner told an unidentified student that COVID and flu vaccination were required for rotation sites and there were "no exemptions at this time." Sanner didn't respond to queries about how this was disclosed prior to enrollment.

Sinatra said she's seeking volunteers to compile "a list of colleges and clinical sites that will accept exemptions or that don’t mandate."

Retired physician Lynda Prince said her daughter was "one year into her nursing school degree" when Florida International University told the student she must get jabbed.

"The way they did it was particularly diabolical," giving her daughter a religious exemption so she'd pay a full year of tuition, Prince wrote on X. This led her "to believe they could place her once clinical rotations started in year 2."

FIU then denied her exemption "the week before she was to start clinical/hospital work," leaving the 32-year-old student the choice of forfeiting her first year or acquiescing, Prince said.

"FIU did not (and does not) require the COVID vaccine," FIU spokesperson Maydel Santana wrote in an email when shown Prince's claims. "Many of the hospitals do require the vaccine."

Some programs explicitly warn students, though it may not be prominently advertised.

The University of Arizona's nursing program informs students that "most" of its clinical sites require vaccination, and "it may not be possible" to place unvaccinated students at sites that don't. 

"If placement at an alternative clinical site is not a possible accommodation, the only available accommodations may be deferral or temporary withdrawal from the program," according the university's College of Nursing website.

Concordia University Texas's nursing program does not mention COVID vaccines in its "immunization records" requirements, but rather a catchall FAQ section at the bottom of its compliance page. 

"Clinical partners now require all students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19" and may add boosters at any time, it states. "Please ensure your proof of vaccination (both doses, with proper documentation) are in Clinical Student by your upload deadline."

Children's Health Defense is suing Rutgers and its School of Biomedical and Health Sciences on behalf of students, now before the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard oral argument this summer. One plaintiff, Kayla Matteo, is a registered nurse in the graduate program at the Camden campus.

Among the allegations, CHD says Rutgers financially benefits from its vaccine mandates because it "helped to develop" the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines through its involvement in clinical trials.

The University of Pennsylvania appears to have an even greater conflict of interest in COVID vaccine mandates because of its patents on mRNA technology, doctoral student Vincent Kelley and professor George Borg wrote in a recent Daily Pennsylvanian op-ed arguing against the resumption of mandates.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported a year ago Penn had reaped nearly $1 billion in vaccine royalties since the beginning of 2021. The Ivy League school refused to tell the Inquirer this month how much of its $1.3 billion licensing revenue in fiscal 2022 came from vaccine royalties, citing confidentiality agreements with Pfizer and Moderna.

Students not currently subject to mandates are trying to preempt their return through a new "Student Declaration" modeled on the anti-lockdown Great Barrington Declaration, released three years earlier, that focuses on the psychological and medical toll of mandates.

Signatories will not "mask, vaccinate, or stay home without the right to choose, meaning not only the right to accept or refuse but the right to fully informed consent without coercion," it states. "We must heal and restore our generation and those generations who follow ours."

Spearheaded by University of Vermont senior Lauren Palmer, the declaration was written between late August and October but only two others publicly identify as authors – UVM's Isla Stover and "graduate law student" Nadia Ghazal, who doesn't give her institution.

"Other key contributing students and signers wished to remain anonymous," the declaration states.

No College Mandates, which closely tracks campus vaccine policies and claims about 75 schools still have mandates, publicized the declaration Oct. 18 and said it helped Palmer connect with other students. Only 43 students have signed as of Tuesday, fewer than faculty, staff and "concerned citizens."