A federal judge began this week with a hearty blow to eight Indiana University students' flawed argument that a requirement they be vaccinated against COVID-19 before classes start this fall violates their constitutional rights.
Angry at the university, the students had asked U.S. District Court Judge Damon R. Leichty in a lawsuit filed after the requirement was announced this spring to block the policy. Their claim: IU's policy essentially forces them to choose between getting vaccinated and going to school.
Au contraire, the judge wrote in a lengthy ruling issued Sunday.
Leichty used 100 pages to make his case, but his point was simple. Students who don't want to be vaccinated have choices, and IU can take reasonable steps to protect those on its campus from a modern plague that so far has killed more than 608,000 people in the U.S. – 13,525 in Indiana and 693 in Allen County, as of Monday afternoon.
Positive COVID-19 cases have increased in recent weeks, and public health officials have warned against variants that can be more transmissible than original strains of the virus.
The students said they would suffer irreparable harm, but the ruling says they can take the vaccine, apply for religious or medical exemptions, take a semester off, attend online or go to another university.
“Recognizing the students' significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, 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,” Leichty wrote. “Today ... the university has done so for its campus communities.”
The vaccine mandate, which the university backed away from slightly when officials said recently that students, faculty and staff can attest to having received immunizations rather than proving them, applies to those at IU's Fort Wayne campus. Neither Purdue University nor Purdue Fort Wayne is requiring vaccines, but they are recommended.
Leichty's ruling does not discount concerns about overzealous government intrusion into citizens' lives. It says, however, that the Constitution gives states – and “arm(s) of the state,” such as IU – the power to make rules to provide for public health and safety.
The university's mandate is a common-sense route to increasing public protection.