UPDATE: See how Union College has responded here.
A sophomore at Union College, a liberal arts college in New York that receives federal funding, has been expelled for refusing to get a COVID booster shot, even though her doctor wrote a letter to the college warning that her getting a booster shot is “ill-advised” because she is experiencing severe health problems “presumably caused by the vaccine itself.”
Diamond “Ellie” Puentes, who is now living in Chicago, told the Chicago Thinker she was hesitant to get a booster shot because she experienced negative side effects after receiving a second dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine in September 2021. A day after receiving the second dose, she became sick, experiencing congestion, coughing, and a sore throat. Less than ten days later, she started vomiting and having diarrhea. She also had a sharp pain in her upper abdomen.
These health problems culminated in her going to an emergency room, where she stayed for six hours and was diagnosed with gastritis. Seven months later, she continues to have symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.
Puentes told the Thinker she had no health problems before getting a second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. Doctors were unable to give her a diagnosis as to why she got as sick as she did.
In January 2022, Union College announced that a COVID booster shot would be required for all students. Students can be exempt from the mandate if they have “approved medical or religious reasons.”
Puentes was not required to get a booster shot until March, as Union College requires a student to wait six months after receiving a second dose of a COVID vaccine before getting a booster shot.
After receiving an email reminding her to get a booster shot, Puentes sent an email expressing her health concerns to Union College’s Office of Community Standards, the Director of Community Standards, the Wellness Center, and her class dean.
In response, Puentes was told to send medical documentation of her gastritis diagnosis to Union College’s Wellness Center. When she did so, the Wellness Center informed her that the documentation she submitted does not exempt her from the booster shot requirement.
After the Wellness Center denied her request for a medical exemption, Puentes became sick again, vomiting and experiencing diarrhea and shortness of breath for consecutive days. Puentes told the Thinker that when she visited her college’s Wellness Center, her college’s Director of Health Services, Angela Stefanatos, asked, “Are you here because you don’t want to get the booster or because you’re truly sick?”
Puentes then contacted her primary care physician, Dr. Thomas M. Nelson, to discuss her concerns that her health problems are associated with the COVID vaccine. On April 11, Dr. Nelson wrote a letter to Union College, expressing that in his opinion, Puentes should “be granted an exception from receiving the booster COVID vaccine.” He further wrote, “She currently is in an unfavorable state of health, presumably caused by the vaccine itself and getting this vaccine is ill-advised.”
A day later, Puentes sent Dr. Nelson’s letter to Stefanatos. In response, Stefanatos told Puentes that her request for a medical exemption had been denied because the “vaccine is not associated with gastritis” and there “is no evidence in the literature that vaccination for [COVID] weakens the immune system.”
According to a Pfizer analysis of adverse effects of the COVID vaccine, gastritis is listed as an adverse event of special interest. A report from the UK also includes gastritis as an observed reaction to Pfizer’s vaccine.
Puentes told the Thinker that she called Pfizer to report her adverse reactions. She claimed that during this phone conversation, a Pfizer employee confirmed to her that patients have reported experiencing gastrointestinal complications, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
Puentes was told by Stefanatos that the decision was “final” and that she would be subject to “conduct action” should she still refuse to get a booster shot. In a separate email, Puentes was told her classes will be dropped and that she has 72 hours to move out of her dorm.
Within these 72 hours, Union College deactivated Puentes’ food card, prohibiting her from eating in all dining halls despite her still living on campus.
When Puentes contacted Union College’s Director of Community Standards about her food card being deactivated, she was told that it was a mistake.
As a last resort, Puentes asked to meet with one of her deans about her request for a medical exemption. This request for a meeting was denied, and Puentes was instead told to meet with Stefanatos.
During this meeting, of which the Thinker has obtained audio, Stefanatos repeated the claim that “there is no indication that the COVID vaccine weakens your immune system.” Stefanatos also said that Puentes has a “choice” to go to college, that Puentes can get the Moderna vaccine if she does not want to get the Pfizer vaccine, and that it is riskier for Puentes to get COVID than it is for her to get the vaccine.
Puentes also requested to meet with the president of Union College, David Harris. Harris denied her request.
Puentes told the Thinker that a professor at Union College told her there are “about fifty other students fighting the mandate and seeking exemptions and [she] was the only one who was unenrolled.”
In a statement to the Thinker, Puentes wrote that her expulsion “felt personal,” as she is a first-generation, low-income college student and a recipient of an academic scholarship that paid for the majority of her tuition. She feels that “it’s easy to let someone like [her] go,” because Union College “no longer had to pay for [her] education and knew that [she] did not have the financial resources to fight back.”
Puentes finds it “unjust for an institution to withdraw a student or fire a staff member because they have chosen not to comply with a policy with valid reasoning.” She said she did not comply with the mandate because “if [she] had chosen to stay and attain the booster, it would’ve enforced that what the institution is doing is okay.”
Union College did not respond to a request for comment.