Last Monday, several Indiana University students filed a federal lawsuit against IU challenging its draconian COVID Vaccine Mandate.
The lawsuit alleges that IU has violated both the students’ constitutional rights as well as Indiana’s Vaccine Passport Law. IU’s Mandate requires every student to take the COVID vaccine. If a student refuses to do so, the student will suffer “strong consequences,” including canceled class registration, terminated student ID, and restrictions from participation in any on campus activity. These consequences amount to virtual expulsion from IU if a student refuses to get the COVID vaccine.
IU does offer “extremely limited” exemptions from its Mandate, which only include a religious exemption, a documented allergy to the vaccine, medical deferrals, and an online student exemption for students in completely online courses with no on-campus presence. IU’s Mandate does not include an exemption for those with a natural immunity to COVID, including those who have previously been infected by COVID and fully recovered or for many medical contra-indications. Nor does IU allow for a medical exemption for those whose own doctor has recommended that the student not take the vaccine due to underlying health concerns (like Lyme disease), unless that health concern falls within a very limited list of conditions.
All three COVID vaccines in use in the U.S. have received “Emergency Use Authorization” by the FDA. When a drug receives EUA, the FDA requires those taking the drug to be informed of both the benefits and the risks of the drug and that taking the drug is optional. These FDA requirements are consistent with modern medical ethics that require voluntary and informed consent for medical treatment, even if receiving the treatment can benefit others. The importance of an individual’s bodily integrity and personal autonomy are protected by these important principles.
IU, however, is not seeking voluntary consent from its students to take the COVID vaccination—it is coercing its students under threat of virtual expulsion to take a vaccine even though the risks associated with the vaccine, especially for college-age students, are serious and increasingly recognized, and students are at an extremely low risk of adverse effects if they get a COVID infection.
Increasingly, the medical community is acknowledging the risks and side effects of COVID vaccines including myocarditis, Bell’s Palsy, Pulmonary Embolus, Pulmonary Immunopathology, and severe allergic reaction causing anaphylactic shock. These emerging risks are especially prevalent for those 18-29 years old.
IU’s Mandate, however, does not take balance of risks and benefits to IU students. College-age students have an extremely low risk of death or even of requiring hospitalization due to a COVID infection. In fact, only one IU student was hospitalized due to COVID and no IU student died from COVID since the beginning of the pandemic. The risk of an IU student dying from COVID is far less than the risk of an IU student dying from any number of other causes, including homicide, car accidents, suicide, and poisoning. And the risk of a COVID infection to others in the general population, who are not required to be vaccinated, exceeds the risk to college aged student by up to almost 1,000 times.
The lawsuit also claims, as Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita recently stated, that IU’s Mandate also violates Indiana’s Vaccine Passport Law, which prohibits the state from requiring proof of COVID immunization status and prohibits the state from penalizing those who refuse to provide such proof. IU requires that all students who choose to take the vaccine to certify that they have taken the COVID vaccine and to certify the dates that they received the vaccine doses. If they do not provide such proof, they will be subject to virtual expulsion from IU, which is the type of requirement and penalty the Vaccine Passport Law seeks to prevent.
“IU’s Mandate violates the constitutional rights of IU’s students—it requires all IU students without any meaningful exemptions to take the COVID vaccine,” said James Bopp, Jr., lead counsel in the lawsuit. “In fact, no other government entity, not the FDA, not the CDC, not the State of Indiana, not any county government, and not any other Indiana public university, requires a COVID vaccination.”
“Ironically,” said Bopp, “IU has imposed such a draconian measure at the very time that COVID is being brought under control. All other federal, state and local governments are lifting their restrictions, while IU is suddenly imposing the most severe requirement of all, mandatory vaccination, that, even at the height of the pandemic, no government authority, including IU, imposed.”
“Finally,” Bopp commented, “IU’s Mandate does not take into account that virtually everyone on IU’s campus, whether professors, staff, or students, can take the vaccine to protect themselves, and wear masks and social distance, if they want to. Thus, IU allows for one and only one option for IU students who do not qualify for its limited exemptions—take the vaccine or be virtually expelled from IU. This kind of total disregard for student freedom to choose for themselves, for student’s bodily autonomy, and for the need for voluntary and informed consent cannot stand under the U.S. Constitution.”