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Decision To Uphold IU’s COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate Likely “Influential” For Future Legal Disputes

"Indiana University Memorial Stadium" by leadenhall is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
A federal judge has upheld Indiana University's COVID-19 vaccine mandate

A federal judge’s decision to uphold Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement could have a chilling effect on other lawsuits attempting to strike down similar mandates. 

That’s according to a national expert with the American Council on Education, an umbrella organization representing higher education institutions across the US. 

Eight IU students sued the university in an effort to stop the COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Other schools, like Purdue, have tried to incentivize vaccinations rather than requiring them. 

Steven Bloom, Assistant Vice President of Government Relations with the council, said in his decision, Judge Damon Leichty ruled the state had authority to “act reasonably” to protect public health. 

“Indiana has had for many years vaccine requirements for other illnesses,” he said. “Nobody is raising objections to those mandates and those mandates were put in place to ensure the safety of other students in college.”

Bloom said it’s unfortunate the issue has become politicized, as the ultimate goal should be protecting students, faculty, and staff. 

“It’s unfortunate that where an institution like Indiana based on its assessment of the science, which is pretty clear, as well as its  assessment of its authority under Indiana law, that they chose to go with a mandate and it’s been politicized,” he said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that the ultimate goal here is to protect students, protect the campus, and protect the communities in which the institutions exist.”

At Indiana University, officials say so far some 80% of students, faculty, and staff have been vaccinated across all of IU’s campuses. 

At Purdue, officials have been unable to provide numbers on how much of its campus community has been vaccinated. 

A spokesperson for Purdue said of the IU decision that “nothing has changed for Purdue” in terms of how it plans to handle COVID-19 vaccinations. 

In his decision denying the injunction, Judge Leichty wrote that Indiana University was permitted to pursue a “reasonable and due process vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff.”

And, Leichty wrote, because students had other options; applying for a religious exemption, applying for a medical exemption, applying for a medical deferral, or taking the semester off, the mandate did not amount to “forced vaccination.” 

The ruling is in response to a request for a preliminary injunction. 

Lawyers for the IU students say they intend to appeal. 

But Bloom said the decision could have a cooling effect on other cases. 

“It will have some kind of influence,” he said. “It won’t be precedential in the legal sense but it will no doubt be influential in the way it’s reviewed and assessed in other places in the country where this kind of dispute may happen.”

Over 580 colleges and universities have a vaccine requirement in place for at least some students and faculty, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.