College student forced off campus for refusing COVID booster shot

A Union College student was removed from campus after refusing to take a COVID-19 booster shot due to health issues that arose following previous vaccinations.

Puentes’ primary care physician wrote a letter to Union College recommending that Puentes be 'granted an exception' from receiving the booster vaccine.

A Union College student was removed from campus after refusing to take a COVID-19 booster shot due to health issues that arose following previous vaccinations.

Diamond "Ellie" Puentes told Campus Reform that after she received her second dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine in Sept. 2021, she experienced unexpected health issues. The symptoms included vomiting, diarrhea, and cold-like symptoms. 

The severity forced Puentes to the emergency room where she was diagnosed with gastritis. According to Puentes, she is still, several months later, experiencing these symptoms.

Regardless, Puentes received an email in Apr. 2022 from Union College which reminded her to submit proof of receiving a booster shot. 

The booster was mandated by the college in January and required that all employees and students receive either Moderna or Pfizer five months after their second dose. 

Exemptions are granted on a case-by-case basis.

After receiving an email in April from the college reminding her to submit proof of receiving a booster shot, Puentes sent an email to several Union College administrators and health community members expressing her “fear” of receiving the booster. 

“I am unsure of who to speak to regarding an exemption from the booster but based on my last experience with the vaccine, this is something I would like to do,” Puentes wrote.

[RELATED: EXCLUSIVE: Student government pushes for COVID-19 booster mandate]

In response, Puentes was instructed to send medical documentation of her diagnosis to the college’s Wellness Center. After receiving Puentes’ documentation, the Wellness Center replied that the letter would not exempt her from receiving the booster. 

Puentes’ primary care physician, Dr. Thomas M. Nelson, then wrote a letter to Union College recommending that Puentes be “granted an exception” from receiving the booster vaccine as she has had “severe, prolonged symptoms since receiving her COVID vaccines.” 

“She currently is in an unfavorable state of health, presumably caused by the vaccine itself and getting this vaccine is ill-advised,” he wrote. 

Puentes sent the letter to Union College’s Director of Health Services Angela Stefanatos. The director replied once again denying the medical exemption request as, according to her, the “vaccine is not associated with gastritis.” 

“Please be advised that this decision is final. Please be further advised that any student who is denied an exemption and fails to comply with the COVID-19 vaccination requirement will be subject to conduct action,” Stefanatos wrote in the email.

According to a Pfizer analysis, “chronic gastritis” is a possible adverse event of the COVID vaccine. Further, Puentes told Campus Reform that Pfizer confirmed with her over the phone that “other patients have had the same reaction.”

“There was nothing I was going to say that was going to make them, I guess, change their mind. Their decision was final. I was expelled and there was nothing I was gonna say that would change that,” Puentes told Campus Reform

[RELATED: Professor explains his public opposition to university COVID booster mandate]

The Office of Community Standards then alerted Puentes that her “classes will be dropped,” and thus will not be allowed to live on campus any longer. 

“You are receiving this message because you have failed to comply with Union College's health requirements. Your request was considered and subsequently denied. As a result, your classes will be dropped,” the email said.

In a separate email from the Office of Residential Life, Puentes was told that she had three days to move out of her dorm. 

“The Office of Residential Life received notification that you are being withdrawn for the Spring 2022 term due to noncompliance with Covid booster protocol. Please note that you need to move out all belongings from your residence hall room, Sorum House 216 within 72 hours,” the email read. 

During these 72 hours, met with Stefanatos to discuss options during which the director suggested she get the Moderna shot, instead, Puentes said. 

[RELATED: No booster? Students may be barred from registration, free movement on campus.]

Puentes also requested a meeting with Union College President David Harris. In an email, Harris replied that he spoke with the dean about the situation. 

“I know that we have tried to work with you on this. I do hope that you will choose to continue your education at Union,” he continued. 

Puentes told Campus Reform what she was thinking at the time. “Nobody is speaking to me!,” she said.

Puentes has since returned home to Chicago and told Campus Reform that she is “in the process of trying to find a school that will accept me.” 

“[A school] that will value me as a person, value my education, value my freedom of bodily autonomy,” she continued. 

Director of Media and Public Relations at Union College Phillip Wajda denied that any students have been expelled for refusing a booster shot in a statement to CBS 6 News

“In general terms, we can state emphatically that no students have been expelled for refusing to get a booster shot,” Wajda said.

In response, Puentes tweeted, “@UnionCollege now claims I haven’t been expelled? I’ve been unenrolled from classes, kicked out of housing, and not permitted back on campus. Nice try!”

Wajda then told Campus Reform that “no one has been expelled. Expelled means you can't return.”

He continued by saying that he is not sure “why people keep reporting she was expelled.”

“Those who are unenrolled for not complying with our policy can return immediately once they follow the policy, as nearly 100 percent of our campus has done,” Wajda continued.

In a statement, Wajda told Campus Reform that the college “would welcome back this student tomorrow if she complied with our well-established policy regarding vaccinations.”

[RELATED: WATCH: UChicago students push back against in-person learning, booster mandate]

“The last I heard from the administration is the money that I owe them,” Puentes told Campus Reform

“I come from a family that can’t support me financially. I’m paying for college on my own. I’m just a kid like I don’t know where I’m going to get all that money. But, for no credit, I have to pay back that money,” she continued.

GoFundMe paused donations to a campaign started for Puentes because it could violate “applicable laws and regulations and our Terms of Service,” The Chicago Thinker reported. The fund was intended to cover legal fees and tuition she currently owes Union College for the spring term 

The fundraiser is now back to full function.

A new campaign has since been started for Puentes on the Christian-based crowdfunding website GiveSendGo

When asked if there are other students who refuse to get the booster shot, Puentes told Campus Reform that she was told by a professor that about fifty other students are “fighting the mandate and I was the only one unenrolled.” 

“There’s other people that have gotten exemptions. I don’t know what the difference is but for some reason just when it came to me it was denied. I don’t know why,” she continued. 

Wajda addressed this in his statement to Campus Reform:

“Those who are denied an exemption are given an opportunity to comply with the policy before any further action is taken,” Wajda continued.

When asked why she refused the booster shot, Puentes told Campus Reform that “it was my health. I had to prioritize my health.” 

“I’m a first-gen student so my goal has always been, you know, get to college, be the first in my family to graduate with a degree,” Puentes said. 

“It’s very devastating to me that something I’ve worked my whole life for is just so easily taken. I find it outrageous really,” she concluded.

Union College Office of Community Standards, Office of Residential Life, President Harris, and Stefanatos did not respond to Campus Reform’s request for comment in time for publication. Campus Reform made best effort to contact Nelson.