Health Care

Federal Judge Upholds Indiana University’s Vaccine Mandate

Fourth-year medical student Anna Roesler administers the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at Indiana University Health, Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Ind., December 16, 2020. (Bryan Woolston/Reuters)

A federal judge ruled Monday that Indiana University could maintain its COVID vaccination mandate for incoming and returning students.

Eight students filed suit against the university on the grounds that the college’s requirement infringed upon their individual liberty and bodily autonomy. They also contended that the COVID vaccine does not fall under the umbrella of immunizations for tetanus, measles, and other diseases schools typically list as prerequisites for enrollment given that its development and rollout was expedited and that it was not technically approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The attorney for the students who objected to the rule commented: “What we have here is the government forcing you to do something that you strenuously object to and have your body invaded in the process.”

The lawsuit was filed in June after Indiana University announced the month prior that vaccination would be a condition of re-entry on campus in the fall for its 100,000 students, faculty, and and staff.

The university said that students who refused to be inoculated would be prohibited from participating in campus activities and would have their class registrations cancelled.

Exceptions to the rule included those who received medical advisories against the vaccine, those who would take courses online, those who take a semester off, and those with religious objections. The religious complaints have stemmed from the confirmed use of aborted fetus-derived material as an ingredient in some of the vaccines. Unvaccinated students would still need to keep wearing masks, get regular COVID-19 testing, and social distance from peers.

Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana decided Monday that it is the right of the institution to promote safety on its grounds by requiring vaccination and declined to grant a preliminary injunction against the policy.

“The Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff,” he noted. Leichty stated that he does not believe the school’s policy is coercive or punitive, given the qualifying exemptions.

“The court isn’t saying a student doesn’t have the right to choose,” he wrote. “Of course every individual does — subject to the state’s reasonable measures designed to pursue legitimate ends of disease control or eradication.”

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