Does a vaccine policy infringe on the bodily autonomy and medical privacy of a college student? Not according to U.S. District Judge Damon R. Leichty.
On Sunday, July 19, Leichty handed out a 101-page decision ruling that Indiana University may require its students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccinations before they can be admitted to campus in the fall, with limited exceptions for religious objections, documented allergies to the vaccine, and medical deferrals. Others may opt for virtual class attendance.
Students who qualified for an exemption will have to take extra precautionary measures on campus by wearing masks and taking additional coronavirus tests. They are also expected to either head home or quarantine in case of an outbreak. Students who refuse the vaccine and don’t qualify for an exemption will have their classes canceled. Their access to online university systems may also be revoked.
Ruling is first to tackle COVID-19 vaccine constitutionality
Leichty’s ruling effectively denied an injunction sought by eight college and graduate students who claimed that the school’s vaccine policy is unconstitutional.
As part of his ruling, Leichty also noted that the university wasn’t forcing students to undergo injections. Instead, it was letting them choose between vaccination and attending on-campus. He also said the university’s policy has shown broad support within its community, noting the approving statements from faculty councils and student governments. As of June 25, it was reported that more than 42,000 students received the vaccine.
This case is among the first to tackle the constitutionality of COVID-19 vaccination. Around 400 private and public institutions in the U.S. have adopted similar vaccine policies. Antivaccine activists have focused on public universities and colleges in filing their lawsuits, as these institutions are bound by constitutional restraints, bringing lawsuits under the 14th Amendment.
Chuck Carney, spokesman for Indiana University, praised Judge Leichty’s decision. He said that they appreciated the ruling, which allowed the university to focus on a full and safe return of its students. (Related: Indiana University students file a lawsuit over COVID-19 vaccine mandate.)
Plaintiffs to appeal the decision
The plaintiffs’ attorney, conservative activist James Bopp Jr., said that he would appeal the decision, saying that the court has made an error.
“We think where the court erred was in failing to recognize that there were constitutionally protected rights that were being infringed by the policy,” Bopp Jr. said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed. “We alleged that these students – who are adults, not children – are entitled to make their own decisions and have full constitutional rights. The mandate violated their rights to bodily integrity and autonomy because they’re entitled to make medical treatment decisions for themselves.”
However, federal courts have consistently upheld vaccination requirements at K-12 schools and workplaces.
Those who opposed the university requirements said that they deserved more scrutiny, and they contended the risks of requiring COVID-19 vaccines, which the Food and Drug Administration authorized for emergency use, saying the speedy review can be more detrimental for the public.
They also said that the number of serious cases among college and graduate students is too low to justify the risks, considering the link between the vaccines and myocarditis, an inflammatory heart condition.
According to data from Harvard Health Publishing, there were about 1,000 cases of myocarditis and pericarditis reported after vaccination with one of the mRNA vaccines. These were most common in male adolescents and young adults, though the majority of the cases have been mild, and 79 percent of those who experienced such conditions have already recovered.
Read more about COVID-19 related reports and updates at Pandemic.news.