Federal judge says Indiana University can require COVID-19 vaccines, boosting hopes for other colleges

Indiana University
(Image credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty's ruling that Indiana University can require students to submit proof they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus was a blow to anti-vaccine activists and a welcome sign for the hundred of other public and private colleges and universities with similar vaccine requirements. The California State University and University of Connecticut systems are awaiting federal rulings from similar lawsuits.

Federal courts have consistently upheld vaccination requirements at K-12 schools and in workplaces, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, citing Arizona State University public health professor James Hodge, but this case is among the first to tackle COVID-19 vaccine mandates at public universities.

Leichty, appointed by former President Donald Trump, issued his 101-page decision Sunday, dismissing the challenge to Indiana University's vaccine requirement from eight undergrad and graduate students who had claimed the requirement unconstitutionally infringed on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy rights. He said Indiana University did not violate any fundamental right enshrined in the Constitution and met the lower standard of showing its policy was "rationally related to ensuring the public health of students," as well as faculty and the broader community.

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Students were also given the option to remain off-campus if they declined to get vaccinated, Leichty noted, and most of the plaintiffs were granted exemptions from the vaccine requirement, allowing them to attend in-person if they wore a mask indoors and got tested regularly — requirements the student plaintiffs rejected. He also looked at the safety data for the vaccines, still under emergency authorization approval, and found little serious risk. "No one should blithely dismiss the call for further investigation, but the students' case isn't strong today," Leichty wrote.

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.