A petition and telephone campaign by parents and others opposed to Boston College’s COVID-19 booster shot mandate failed to stop the school’s requirement from taking effect, but some critics of the policy say they’re not done speaking out.

Among them is Peter Ireland, an economics professor at the Jesuit-run university. Though he is fully vaccinated and has received the booster, he says he has “serious ethical problems” about the university’s stance, citing the vaccines’ possible side effects. He also questions whether the booster requirement will be repeated in a few months and continue indefinitely.

“There just doesn't seem to be an off ramp,” Ireland told CNA. 

A Jan. 5 letter from university officials Dr. Douglas Comeau and David Trainor said that Boston College students, faculty, and staff who wish to be on campus at any point during the spring semester had to get the booster shot by Feb. 9. 

In response, a petition was launched asking the school for a wide range of exemptions to the booster mandate. To date, the petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures, many of which are identified as parents of Boston College students.

In another attempt to stop the mandate, a group of parents set up a phone call campaign, coined “CALL IT OFF,” on Jan. 31. The campaign, created by “BC Moms,” planned to have an alumnus or parent call the office of president Father William Leahy, S.J, every 10 minutes voicing their concerns about the mandate. Parents, who told CNA that the campaign went as planned, called the office of Executive Vice President Michael Lochhead, as well.

On the signup form, parents left comments opposing the mandates. One parent said that it is “unnecessary and dangerous” to force a low risk population to take an experimental vaccine. 

An alumnus and now university parent, Bob Hymans, told CNA that he considers the school’s mandate to be immoral. 

“We’re still in the preliminary studies and keep finding out more about these vaccines on a daily basis,” he said. “So, in my opinion it’s immoral to mandate anybody take an experimental treatment where they can’t possibly have informed consent.” 

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Hymans didn’t want his son, who is a freshman, to get the booster because he says it’s an “experimental drug.” Ultimately, his son got the booster shot ahead of the deadline, he said, adding that he fears for his son’s health now.`

Criticism of the mandate hasn't altered Boston College's position.

“Boston College remains firm in its COVID-19 policies, which are based on public health recommendations and created to help protect the health and wellbeing of the University community," university spokesman Jack Dunn told CNA on Feb. 14

Dunn said that 99.3% of students, faculty, and staff were vaccinated at the start of the school year, and “a similar percentage” complied with the booster requirement.

“There is widespread support among students, faculty, and staff for a fully vaccinated and boostered campus community,” Dunn said.

The only exceptions to the university's booster requirement were for those who have previously obtained a religious or medical exemption. But several parents told CNA that exemptions are rarely granted. CNA asked the university how many exemptions they granted but did not receive a response.

‘The emergency is over’

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Ireland, the economics professor, said he thought it was “a little weird” that he had to get vaccinated in the first place to keep his job, especially because he already had contracted the virus. Nevertheless, he went along, he said, trusting what experts had told him. 

He said hoped that after he got vaccinated that masking on campus would no longer be necessary. Yet despite near-perfect compliance with the vaccination mandate, Boston College recently recorded its second highest COVID-19 positivity rate among students, prompting the school to re-institute a mask mandate that lasted from Jan. 14 through Jan. 31.

Ireland, who said he reluctantly ended up getting the booster for fear of losing his job, argued that the vaccine has not delivered on its promise of reducing the spread of COVID-19. He also fears that next school year a fourth shot could be on the way.

Ireland says one of his concerns is the possibility of “adverse side effects,” especially in younger men.

A nine-month study of the effect of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines in the Journal of the American Medical Association published in January 2022 found that the risk of post-vaccination myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart muscle, “was increased across multiple age and sex strata and was highest after the second vaccination dose in adolescent males and young men.” The study’s authors noted that the risk “should be considered in the context of the benefits of COVID-19 vaccination.”

The study reported that out of the 192,405,448 persons receiving at least one dose of either mRNA vaccine, there were 1,991 reports of myocarditis to the federal government’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System. The study says that 1,626 of the reported cases were confirmed and the median age was 21. More than 8 out of 10 myocarditis cases were found to be in men.

The New England Journal of Medicine also published a recent study among patients in a large Israeli healthcare system who had received at least one dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA vaccine which examined data on myocarditis. The study estimated 2.13 cases per 100,000 people, with the highest occurrences being among male patients between the ages of 16 and 29 years of age. “Most cases of myocarditis were mild or moderate in severity,” the authors noted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirms that cases of myocarditis and pericarditis, an inflammation of the outer lining of the heart, have been reported after mRNA COVID-19 vaccination, “especially in male adolescents and young adults.” The CDC says the conditions typically develop after the second dose of the vaccine and within a week of vaccination.

There has not been a chance for long-term studies on the vaccines, and that makes the choice to get vaccinated difficult for many people, Ireland says. And given the current data showing the ineffectiveness of vaccines to stop the spread, he agrees with Hyman and other parents that the mandate is immoral.

“If you're going to mandate that someone goes through a medical procedure, there had better be a compelling reason,” Ireland said.

“It had better be an emergency, and the emergency is over,” he said, adding that he plans to continue to speak out against mandatory booster shots.