George Mason University (GMU) announced on Monday that the school would be revoking its Covid-19 booster mandate for students, marking a win for their medical freedoms and bodily autonomy.
In an email sent to students, President Gregory Washington announced that while the university will still “strongly encourage vaccination protocols for all Mason students, faculty, and staff,” they will “no longer require them,” citing the Virginia school’s “high vaccination rate, the continued decline of the omicron variant, the Governor’s recent executive orders and directives, and the recent Attorney General’s opinion” as justification for the decision.
“We also strongly encourage everyone to upload their vaccination status so we can continue to understand the effect of the virus on campus community,” Washington said.
Beyond reversing its booster policy, Washington also said GMU is looking to repeal its current university-wide mask mandate by early March.
“The weekend spring break starts will mark the two-year anniversary since COVID-19 first disrupted our campuses, and so early March will be a fitting time to consider changing course,” he said. “We would, however, continue to strongly encourage masking indoors and when required for isolation or quarantine, per CDC guidance.”
Testing for students considered to be at a higher risk of transmission, such as those in residence halls and athletic programs, and those who have chosen to forgo the Covid jabs will still be required for the next five weeks, however.
The decision from the school’s administration comes after a wave of backlash from the GMU student body. After the announcement of the booster mandate late last year, students within the school started a petition demanding that the university revoke the overreaching policy, saying it was “unethical and immoral to exploit the vulnerability of students, who would lose so much by exercising their right of refusal, to take a medical treatment without their voluntary, informed consent.”
Antonin Scalia Law School student Jacob Meckler expressed his pleasure that the school “has finally acknowledged it lacks the authority to make medical decisions for its students,” but also conveyed skepticism that the administration would follow through on its pledge to roll back mask mandates.
“Given the hesitant language University President Gregory Washington used in announcing the end of the mask mandate, and the fact that the university promised an end to the mask mandate more than a semester ago, I’m not confident the university can be trusted to keep its word,” Meckler told The Federalist. “Beyond that, because the university is acknowledging that masks lack much utility at this point in the pandemic, any delay in dropping the mask mandate is inexcusable.”
“The fractured trust between students and the administration will take years to heal, years in which the university must return to treating its students like the adults they are,” he added.
Just days before GMU’s decision, Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares issued a legal opinion arguing that the state General Assembly did not provide universities with the “power to impose [COVID-19] vaccine requirements.”
“To date, the General Assembly has not amended the specific immunizations enumerated in § 23.1-800 to include immunization for COVID-19, and boards of visitors may not exercise an implied power to require a certain vaccine when a specific statute governing vaccination excludes it,” Miyares wrote. “For the reasons stated herein, I conclude that, absent specific authority conferred by the General Assembly, public institutions of higher education in Virginia may not require vaccination against COVID-19 as a general condition of students’ enrollment or in-person attendance.”