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.
Attorney General Todd Rokita’s (R) 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.
It’s not uncommon for colleges to require immunizations, but the coronavirus vaccines have been controversial. That’s in part because the shots available have been approved by the FDA for emergency use, a temporary authorization used to speed them into peoples’ arms during the pandemic. Critics worry that the vaccines should have more-rigorous testing to ensure they are safe.
And many coronavirus restrictions and rules have been divisive, as people debate the merits and need for things such as masks and shutdowns. In some states, lawmakers have banned vaccine requirements or mandates to disclose vaccination status.
A group formed to counter the mandate, the IU Family for Choice, not Mandates, held a rally on the Bloomington campus this month.