College vaccine mandates: Highest court yet affirms Indiana University requirement

on Aug3
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In the highest court decision so far when it comes to college immunization mandates, a federal appeals court ruled Monday that Indiana University can proceed with its plan to require students and employees to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to campus for the fall semester. 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, which is based in Chicago, denied a motion for an injunction seeking to stop Indiana University’s policy, Fox 59 reported. In doing so, it upheld an Indiana district court judge’s previous ruling that found that the university was acting reasonably “in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities.”

Eight IU students had sought to block the requirement while they challenge its legality, claiming that it would violate their constitutional rights under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment by forcing them to receive unwanted medical treatment.

INDIANA UNIVERSITY STUDENTS SUE SCHOOL OVER VACCINE REQUIREMENT, ALLEGE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS VIOLATED

The appeals court decision heavily cited Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a Supreme Court decision in 1905, which found that a Massachusetts state law allowing cities to require residents to be vaccinated for smallpox did not violate one’s protections under the 14th Amendment. It essentially decided personal liberty may be circumvented for the good of the public under state police power. 

But unlike in that early 20th century case, Indiana University’s vaccine policy allows exemptions on religious and medical grounds, which the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday provides constitutional accommodations for those who qualify. The appeals court said a state government cannot require vaccinations, but a state university can, just as it can mandate class assignments.  

“If conditions of higher education may include surrendering property and following instructions about what to read and write, it is hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe when learning,” according to the ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. 

“A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease,” it continues. “Few people want to return to remote education—and we do not think that the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks and frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough.”

In this July 30, 2021, file photo, Bradley Sharp, of Saratoga, N.Y., gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from registered nurse Stephanie Wagner in New York. Sharp needs the vaccination because it is required by his college. Hundreds of college campuses across the country have told students that they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before classes begin in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

In this July 30, 2021, file photo, Bradley Sharp, of Saratoga, N.Y., gets the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from registered nurse Stephanie Wagner in New York. Sharp needs the vaccination because it is required by his college. Hundreds of college campuses across the country have told students that they must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before classes begin in a matter of weeks. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

The policy makes vaccination a condition of attending the university, and students who don’t want to get vaccinated can also seek “ample educational opportunities” elsewhere, according to the ruling.  

James Bopp, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, who takes on conservative political causes, said he would ask the U.S. Supreme Court to review the rulings. Similar lawsuits against student vaccine requirements at the University of Connecticut and the California State University system are awaiting action.

Bopp argues that such vaccine requirements violate their rights to “bodily autonomy” and that the COVID-19 vaccines differ from other immunizations frequently required for college students, such as for measles and meningitis, because of their newness and the lower risks that younger adults have of suffering from severe bouts of COVID-19.

In reaction to the ruling Monday, Indiana University issued a statement, saying, “Once again, the court has affirmed our legitimate public health interest in assuring the safety of our students, faculty and staff and we are excited to welcome our community back for the fall semester.”

A lawsuit was filed after IU officials announced in May that the school would require its roughly 90,000 students and 40,000 employees on its seven campuses to receive COVID-19 vaccinations for the fall semester. Students who don’t comply will have their registration canceled and workers who don’t will lose their jobs.

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IU initially was going to require students and employees to provide immunization documentation. That sparked a backlash from Republican state lawmakers and the state attorney general, leading university officials to make providing proof of vaccination optional and allow students and employees to simply attest to their vaccination in an online form.

The university is allowing religious and medical exemptions, but school spokesman Chuck Carney said more than 80% of students have reported receiving at least one dose.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 



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