The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 30, 2021 1:00 am


Vaccine policy of colleges is no place for politics

Millions of students head to campuses across the country each year to begin their college careers.

With them go vaccination records – proof students set to join their peers are protected against diseases including measles, mumps, diphtheria and meningitis. Colleges in the U.S. have required proof of immunizations since at least the early 1980s, when groups such as the American College Health Association and the Immunization Practices Advisory Committee began issuing recommendations for such measures, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Purdue University Fort Wayne mandates vaccinations against a number of illnesses. It won't require COVID-19 vaccinations, though immunizations for the deadly coronavirus are strongly encouraged.

Indiana University announced recently it will require COVID-19 vaccines for faculty and students attending classes on its campuses around the state (see Dr. Michael Mirro's piece also on this page), igniting controversy where there should be none and drawing pushback from GOP lawmakers and an attorney general more interested in political power than public health.

Since the announcement, a group of 19 lawmakers – including five who represent northeast Indiana – has asked Gov. Eric Holcomb block IU's move. Attorney General Todd Rokita followed Wednesday with a nonbinding advisory opinion that the university can't require proof of COVID-19 immunization, citing a newly enacted law that says “the state or a local unit may not issue or require an immunization passport.”

That's after Republican leaders in the General Assembly who shepherded the legislation to passage without public hearings hedged on questions about whether the law would apply to K-12 schools or universities. One – House Speaker Todd Huston, who last month mentioned only state and local governments related to issuing passports – has since predictably changed course and said he backs Rokita's opinion.

Thirty-five Republican senators sent a letter Thursday to IU, asking it to take back the vaccine requirement.

IU, which joined Notre Dame as Indiana universities requiring coronavirus vaccines, is rightly doing some pushing back of its own.

A statement from the public university provided by spokesman Chuck Carney notes that Rokita's opinion affirmed the legality of requiring vaccines. The question now is how to secure proof, and Carney said IU will “further consider our process for verifying the requirement.”

“The science is clear that we need a higher rate of immunity within our IU community,” the statement says. “With the new requirement, most restrictions on masking and physical distancing this fall, as outlined in the fall health and safety guidelines announced this week, can be lifted. Requiring the vaccine is the best and fastest way to make sure that happens.”

Purdue University has not followed IU's lead, instead strongly encouraging vaccines and requiring frequent testing for those not immunized. It's also left satellite campuses such as Fort Wayne's to put in place their own COVID-19 policies.

Jeffrey Malanson, director of strategic planning, has been leading the effort to coordinate Purdue Fort Wayne's response to the coronavirus since last year. That's meant difficult decisions made with the input of hundreds of faculty and staff members as well as university administrators.

The decision to recommend vaccines and not require them was made independently, he said, but with an eye to Purdue's West Lafayette campus, which has myriad epidemiologists and other experts guiding policymaking.

That's how decisions should be made – with the input of stakeholders and experts, not lawmakers and an overly ambitious attorney general.

Vaccinations at colleges should not be political. Leave the institutions' faculty, staff and students to make the decisions best for them.

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