From the community | Dear Stanford: Don’t force boosters on students

Jan. 13, 2022, 7:13 p.m.

Monte Fischer is a Ph.D. student at Stanford

In case you haven’t heard, Stanford mandated that students must get boosted by Jan. 31 — or else. 

When Paul Offit — director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, member of the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, decades-long enemy of the anti-vax movement and co-inventor of a rotavirus vaccine — tells his own twenty-something son not to get boosted, you might start to ask some questions about the wisdom of Stanford’s latest mandate. 

It is becoming clear: Mandating boosters is an affront against the medical and bodily autonomy of Stanford students. That is why I started a petition to Stanford leadership to rescind the booster mandate. I will lay out my case here, but I encourage everyone to read the petition itself and draw their own conclusions. If you agree that getting boosted should be a personal decision, let Stanford know.

To start with, our campus is already extremely well-protected against covid. We are over 95% fully vaccinated. Our student body is overwhelmingly young. The latest CDC weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rate estimate for 18-49 year old, fully vaccinated people is 9 in 1,000,000. If you’re under 30, that’s a weekly rate of 4.5 in 1,000,000. This is on par with the pre-pandemic rates of hospitalization from the flu for 18-30 year olds, but Stanford (rightly) didn’t mandate flu vaccines back then.

It is a farce to pretend that booster vaccines will save us from the spread of COVID-19 on campus. The CDC itself does not claim this. Even Dr. Fauci is now saying that Omicron will reach “just about everyone” and that, speaking of the vaccinated and boosted, “some, maybe a lot of them, will get infected.” Or take it from FDA acting commissioner Janet Woodcock: “most people are going to get Covid.” Take it from exploding case rates on campus and across the world: vaccines aren’t stopping the spread. Many people have justified and compassionate concerns about overwhelming the hospital system with COVID patients. But let us not kid ourselves by thinking that mandating boosters for Stanford students will prevent this.

Besides being ineffective against Omicron transmission, COVID vaccines are not risk-free. In particular, young men aged 16–29 experience vaccination-induced myocarditis (heart inflammation) at a rate of 10.69 in 100,000. Our understanding of booster vaccine effectiveness itself is still preliminary, with a recent UK Health Security Agency report suggesting that 10 weeks after boosting, vaccine effectiveness had fallen to around 45%. We are in a situation with preliminary data and uncertainty about long-term outcomes. This should have prompted caution and humility from University leadership. Instead, we got a mandate.

Despite the risks, there are also good reasons to get boosted, especially if you are old or have preexisting conditions that put you at greater risk from COVID. By all means, let us make boosters available and easy to get! But by mandating, Stanford is paternalistically making our own medical choices for us. Note that we have received no argument for why the sudden need to get every student boosted outweighs our rights to choose medical treatments for ourselves! 

There are good medical reasons to eat healthy meals, take up jogging or abstain from drinking alcohol (for those of age). But we would rightly be outraged if Stanford forced these decisions on us. That would be an unethical infringement on our basic rights of privacy and bodily autonomy.

If you believe that boosting should be a personal, uncoerced medical decision, let Stanford leadership know. Our silence is interpreted as support, so let’s stop being silent. Everyone, boosted or not, has a common cause in this. We must stand for our right to our own bodies. We must not quietly submit to this performative and offensive mandate.

Let us send a message to the University: treat us as adults. If Stanford thinks we should be boosted, let it persuade us with evidence and reason instead of holding our futures hostage and bullying us into compliance. 

This article has been corrected to accurately compare weekly COVID-19 hospitalization rates to seasonal flu hospitalization rates. The Daily regrets this error.

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