Does a vaccine policy infringe on the bodily autonomy and medical privacy of a college student? Not according to U.S. District Judge Damon R. Leichty.
On Sunday, July 19, Leichty handed out a 101-page decision ruling that Indiana University may require its students to submit proof of COVID-19 vaccinations before they can be admitted to campus in the fall, with limited exceptions for religious objections, documented allergies to the vaccine, and medical deferrals. Others may opt for virtual class attendance.
Students who qualified for an exemption will have to take extra precautionary measures on campus by wearing masks and taking additional coronavirus tests. They are also expected to either head home or quarantine in case of an outbreak. Students who refuse the vaccine and don’t qualify for an exemption will have their classes canceled. Their access to online university systems may also be revoked.
Ruling is first to tackle COVID-19 vaccine constitutionality
Leichty’s ruling effectively denied an injunction sought by eight college and graduate students who claimed that the school’s vaccine policy is unconstitutional.
As part of his ruling, Leichty also noted that the university wasn’t forcing students to undergo injections. Instead, it was letting them choose between vaccination and attending on-campus. He also said the university’s policy has shown broad support within its community, noting the approving statements from faculty councils and student governments. As of June 25, it was reported that more than 42,000 students received the vaccine.
This case is among the first to tackle the constitutionality of COVID-19 vaccination. Around 400 private and public institutions in the U.S. have adopted similar vaccine policies. Antivaccine activists have focused on public universities and colleges in filing their lawsuits, as these institutions are bound by constitutional restraints, bringing lawsuits under the 14th Amendment.