It may be weeks before colleges open again, but students and friends are already rallying against the potential of a requirement coming this fall semester.
On Monday, July 19, more than 200 people showed up across from the Stony Brook Long Island Rail Road train station on Route 25A to protest mandated COVID-19 vaccines for State University of New York and City University of New York students.
The Students Against Mandates rally took place less than a mile from Stony Brook University which is a SUNY school. In May, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said the students in the state university system would be required to be vaccinated once the vaccines get full FDA approval, which is still pending.
On the SUNY website, Chancellor Jim Malatras in a May 10 statement talked about the educational system’s success in curbing infections and the possibility of a vaccination requirement.
“We thank the governor for providing resources to our many campuses offering vaccines to SUNY and the broader community,” Malatras said. “The state’s new vaccination requirement — contingent on full FDA approval — will be another step in restoring normal campus activity this fall.”
Cait Corrigan, who will attend Boston University in the fall for her second master’s and describes herself as a religious and medical rights advocate and defender of the Constitution on her social media pages, organized the event. She said in an email while SUNY and CUNY have not taken official action yet, “many private schools such as Hofstra and Fordham universities have told students they must get the experimental COVID-19 vaccine to attend in the fall.”
The recent graduate of Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, Indiana, said she “overturned my school’s policy for requiring proof of COVID vaccination and proof of a negative COVID test for graduation.”
She is now helping others do the same. At the July 19 rally, protesters held up signs with messages such “SUNY! No forced vax!” and “Vaccine makers are exempt from liability.”
Among the elected officials in attendance were state Assemblywoman Jodi Giglio (R-Riverhead) and Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga). Civil rights attorney Tricia Lindsay also joined the students.
Trotta said in a phone interview it would be hypocritical to ask students to be vaccinated when unvaccinated people are going to stores and bars maskless. The county legislator said students can most likely socially distance themselves in a classroom more than they can in a store or restaurant. He added that young people are more likely to die in a car accident or from an opioid overdose than from COVID-19.
Trotta said he is not against vaccinations, and he got his as soon as he could.
“I think people should get vaccinated, but I’m not going to tell people to get vaccinated,” he said, adding that he feels the same way about wearing masks, that while he’s not against them he doesn’t believe people should be forced to do so.
SBU will follow “the state’s and SUNY chancellor’s public health guidance for students and employees,” according to a statement from the university. SBU surveyed students and employees earlier this summer and found high rates of vaccinations among the school’s population.
“As a public research institution, Stony Brook affirms and strongly supports freedom of expression and the use of science and data to make informed decisions,” the statement read. “The safety and efficacy of the vaccines approved for emergency use by the FDA were demonstrated by many carefully monitored clinical trials, including some that Stony Brook helped to lead. As with other immunizations that are required to enroll at Stony Brook, the COVID vaccines are important tools to protect our community’s public health and ensure student’s optimal learning experience. We maintain the same process as for other required immunizations, to consider exceptions for religious or health reasons.”
In the fall, SBU and SUNY students who are not fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks on campus and maintain social distancing in indoor settings.