An online petition calling on Penn to revoke its COVID-19 booster vaccine mandate has garnered over 1,400 signatures.
The petition, which was started by second-year doctoral candidate in ethnomusicology Vincent Kelley, calls on Penn President Amy Gutmann, Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, and Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli to overturn the requirement which will go into effect on Jan. 31. Citing Penn’s almost 100% vaccination rate and recent campus record high positivity rates, Kelley demands that the University remove its booster shot requirement.
Penn’s current policy requires all eligible community members to receive a booster vaccine by Jan. 31 or within 30 days of becoming eligible. Community members who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least five months ago or the Johnson and Johnson vaccine two months ago are eligible to receive a booster, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Penn recently hosted a COVID-19 booster vaccine clinic on Jan. 14, 17, 18, and 19.
In an interview with the Daily Pennsylvanian, Kelley called the mandate "predictable" but also irresponsible of the University. Kelley cited the concerns of Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, who believes that the priority should be inoculating the unvaccinated. Offit published editorials in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Dec. 29 and The Washington Post on Nov. 29 advocating against universal booster vaccines.
The petition also cited the World Health Organization's interim statement on booster doses, which argues that providing booster vaccines in countries that already have a highly vaccinated population takes away vaccines from under-vaccinated, lower-income countries and widens the gap of "profound inequity in global vaccine access."
Kelley said he delivered the petition in an email and an in-person meeting with President Amy Gutmann, Interim Provost Beth Winkelstein, and Senior Executive Vice President Craig Carnaroli on Jan. 25.
He added that another goal is for the petition to start an open dialogue on campus regarding the mandate, explaining that there is existing social pressure to agree with the policy. The petition states it is not meant as anti-vaccination or anti-booster. Rather, those who sign have “ethical” concerns with the booster shot mandate.
“Those who want the booster should absolutely get the booster. I have nothing against people getting the booster. If they feel the booster is going to protect them more — I don’t think there’s evidence for that yet — they’re more than welcome to,” Kelley said. “I think having it mandated is a much stronger step that is not justified ethically nor scientifically.”
However, recent data from the CDC suggests the COVID-19 booster vaccine is effective in preventing infection and severe disease.
Kelley said Penn and other universities play a significant role in forecasting future COVID-19 policies in Philadelphia and around the country, pointing to the fact that the city initiated a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in August 2021 for healthcare workers and educators after Penn did the same in April 2021. Kelley said due to the critical role that universities play in shaping COVID-19 policies, Penn’s decision carries magnitude for those outside of the Penn community.