Eight students have challenged Indiana University’s coronavirus vaccine requirement, arguing that the school’s mandate violates their constitutional rights and state law.
The state flagship university announced recently that its more than 100,000 students, faculty and staff would have to get vaccinated against the novel coronavirus, an effort to increase safety on campus and resume more normal operations for the fall semester.
Colleges across the country are urging — or requiring — vaccines, trying to balance individual rights with public health as they seek to restore the kind of campus experience students crave.
But some Indiana University students argue in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that the vaccine mandate is an unfair imposition on their rights at a time when many other institutions are loosening pandemic restrictions.
While the school does allow some exemptions for religious or medical reasons, the plaintiffs argue the exemptions are extremely limited even as the school threatens “virtual expulsion” for those who don’t comply.
“This is extreme and unjustified,” said attorney James Bopp Jr., a graduate of IU. The policy requires students to get vaccinated despite increasing evidence of serious complications and adverse reactions, Bopp said, even though the chance of young people having an adverse result from a coronavirus infection is extremely low.
People over 70 are at dramatically higher risk for serious consequences from COVID-19, he said, but they are not required to get vaccinated. “The FDA does not require it, the CDC does not require it, no federal agency, state agency, county agency” mandates it, he said, referring to the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In fact, many governments are reducing or eliminating any coronavirus-related mandates, he said, “while at the same time Indiana is taking this totally drastic step.” That leaves young people bearing the brunt of this, he said, “stripping the rights they have to make choices themselves, to protect their own bodies against government invasion.”
The complaint argues that IU’s mandate “is contrary to the fundamental tenet of medical ethics which require voluntary and informed consent for any procedure, or drug that imposes a medical risk to an individual.”
Chuck Carney, a spokesman for Indiana University, said in a written statement that the requirement remains in place, helping support a return to safe and more normal operations in the fall. “The university is confident it will prevail in this case.”
The university revised its process after the Indiana attorney general issued an opinion, Carney noted, no longer requiring uploading proof of vaccination. “The attorney general’s opinion affirmed our right to require the vaccine,” he said.
The office of Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, office did not respond to a request for comment. But in May, the office issued an opinion noting that while public universities were prohibited from requiring proof of the vaccine, the law does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself.