Indiana University can continue its policy mandating that students get a COVID-19 vaccine before the fall term while a group of students appeals a federal district court ruling upholding the requirement through the litigation process.
Although the panel didn’t rule on the merits of the students’ suit — which claims the vaccine mandate violates the due process clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment — it did indicate that there isn’t a constitutional problem with requiring members of the public to be vaccinated against the novel coronavirus.
Citing the 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case Jacobson v. Massachusetts , which held that a state could require people to be vaccinated against smallpox, the panel said there can’t be a constitutional problem with the COVID-19 vaccine.
The judge said that the 14th Amendment gives the school the ability to come up with a vaccine requirement “in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty and staff.”
Vaccination requirements, like other public health measures, have become common in the U.S.
Unlike in Jacobson, however, Indiana University should have an even easier time keeping its vaccine mandate because it allows exemptions for medical and religious reasons. The problems that crop up when a state refuses to make accommodations aren’t present in this case.
Six of the eight plaintiffs have claimed the religious exception, and a seventh is eligible for it. These plaintiffs just need to wear masks and be tested, requirements that are not constitutionally problematic.
The state of Indiana doesn’t require every adult to be vaccinated, as Massachusetts did in Jacobson — it’s merely a requirement for attending Indiana University. People who don’t want to get vaccinated can go elsewhere.
The panel said it’s up to each university to decide what’s necessary to keep students safe in a “congregate setting,” noting that vaccinations against other diseases, like measles, mumps, rubella and tetanus, are common requirements of higher education.
Students must pay money to attend the university and also must read what professors assign, write essays, and take exams, even if they disagree with the material, according to the opinion. The same thing applies to keeping students safe from a disease while at school.
The plaintiffs will be appealing the panel’s decision to the Supreme Court.