• Catherine Devlin

Boston University Mandates COVID-19 Booster for Spring Semester

On December 10, Boston University President Robert Brown announced in an email to university members that the COVID-19 booster would be required for all students, faculty, and staff for the Spring 2022 semester. Brown’s announcement follows similar booster mandates at other universities in the city and matches past precedents regarding both COVID-19 vaccination requirements and university vaccine mandates in general. Despite health officials declaring booster shots the best way to protect against COVID-19 - including the Omicron variant - critics of the vaccine continue to protest such mandates and some worry that the booster will decrease trust in the initial immunization.


Photo Courtesy: Jackie Ricciardi

In his announcement to BU students, faculty, and staff, President Brown praised the fall 2021 return to in-person learning and ascribed BU’s “vibrant campus community” to COVID-19 precautions including mask and vaccine mandates. In order to preserve in-person opportunities in Spring 2022, all BU students, faculty, staff, and affiliates who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccination six months ago or Johnson & Johnson vaccination two months ago will be required to submit documentation of having received a booster shot by February 4, 2022.


While Brown acknowledged the uncertainty of how the omicron variant will affect the spread and severity of the pandemic, he explained that university officials planned to use the Delta variant as a model for how to adjust. Brown ended his email by informing recipients that BU Chief Health Office Judy Platt will follow up with more information on the mandate.


BU joins a host of other Massachusetts universities that will require booster shots for spring 2022. Bentley University, Boston College, Emerson College, UMass Amherst, and Northeastern University all announced similar mandates earlier in the week. Harvard University and UMass Lowell have yet to officially require the booster, but both have publicly urged university members to receive the third dose.


These booster mandates arrive as health professionals continue to monitor the progress of the new Omicron variant. On December 8, scientists from Pfizer and BioTech released a study that showed that the initial two doses of the Pfizer vaccine may prevent serious hospitalization from the Omicron variant and that a booster shot increased neutralization of the Omicron virus by 25 times. Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), hypothesized that there would be no need for an Omicron specific inoculation because of the effectiveness of current COVID-19 booster shots.


In addition to being supported by public health officials, university vaccine mandates are far from unprecedented. In 1827, Boston became the first United States city to require student immunization when it made smallpox vaccines a requirement for schools. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, Boston University had a set of immunizations that students needed to either receive or receive dispensation from in order to remain in university compliance, including Measles-Mumps-Rubella, Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Hepatitis B, and Varicella. Furthermore, COVID-19 vaccine mandates have become common in the United States, a precedent set by the top when President Biden issued an executive order mandating federal employee vaccinations on September 9. As the CDC recommends boosters as the next step in COVID-19 defense, it follows that vaccine mandates would be adjusted to account for this new recommendation.


Even so, some criticize booster requirements. Vaccine critics predate Boston’s immunization mandates, with Reverend John Williams, for instance, warning Bostonians against immunizations as early as the eighteenth century. Criticism of the COVID-19 vaccine continues to stem mainly from the Republican Party. As of October 2021, 90% of Democrats reported receiving the COVID-19 vaccine while only 61% of Republicans had been immunized. Recently, some Republican-led states have extended unemployment benefits to citizens who are fired for failing to comply with vaccine mandates, thus effectively condoning such decisions.


Some who are in favor of the initial vaccine worry that mandated booster shots will decrease the public’s faith in the inoculation overall. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, does not think that boosters will majorly impact the pandemic's trajectory, as those most likely to be severely infected continue to be fully unvaccinated individuals. Furthermore, Offit worries that pushing the booster will detract from efforts to convince the unvaccinated to receive their first doses and will decrease public faith in health officials overall.


Despite criticism, universities are reinforcing the trend of mandating COVID-19 precautions. The new year will likely see more universities and businesses follow suit in protecting their students and employees by requiring science-backed immunizations.