Federal judge rules that Indiana University can require Covid vaccines for students

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A medical worker receives the Covid-19 vaccine at the First Affiliated Hospital of Sun Yat-sen University on April 7, 2021 in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province of China.

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A federal judge ruled Sunday that Indiana University can require its students to get vaccinated against Covid-19 in the first ruling upholding a vaccine mandate by an educational institution.

Judge Damon R. Leichty of the U.S. District Court for Northern Indiana, denied a request for a preliminary injunction that would have temporarily stopped the school from requiring most students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated at least two weeks ahead of the return for the fall semester starting Aug. 1. Students who don’t get vaccinated and don’t receive an exemption cannot go on campus or use university email accounts. Their access cards to campus are deactivated, the judge wrote.

Eight students sued the school shortly after the policy was announced in May, arguing that the mandate infringes on their bodily autonomy and medical privacy. They also argued against mask requirements and Covid testing, but the judge also denied those requests, saying “there is no fundamental constitutional right to not wear a mask.”

“They ask the court to enter a preliminary injunction — an extraordinary remedy that requires a strong showing that they will likely succeed on the merits of their claims, that they will sustain irreparable harm, and that the balance of harms and the public interest favor such a remedy,” the judge’s opinion read. “The court now denies their motion.”

The lawsuit could have broader implications for other schools. Hundreds of higher education institutions, including the state and city university systems in New York and California, have mandated vaccines for students in the fall.

“Recognizing the students’ significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff,” the judge wrote in his 101-page opinion.

James Bopp Jr., who represented the students, said they will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, the New York Times reported. He said America’s Frontline Doctors, a conservative group that’s protested several Covid-19 public health measures, including the vaccines, will cover the cost, according to the Times.

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