Federal judge will not block Indiana University's vaccine mandate

Indiana University's vaccine requirement for students and employees will remain in place after a federal judge declined to issue a preliminary injunction against the policy.

Judge Damon Leichty of the Northern District of Indiana on Sunday denied the injunction request, following a lawsuit from eight students who argued the policy violated their constitutional rights and state law.

The decision means the school's vaccine mandate will remain in place while the case is decided.

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The lawsuit comes as vaccination rates have stagnated in many Republican-leaning states and counties, leading to new surges of coronavirus infections. 

Indiana's flagship public university announced in May that it would require its more than 100,000 students, faculty and staff to get vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

There are religious and medical exemptions, but students who do not get vaccinated face additional restrictions like mask requirements, frequent COVID-19 testing and physical distancing rules. The requirements are only in effect for the fall 2021 semester. 

State Attorney General Todd RokitaTheodore (Todd) Edward RokitaFederal judge will not block Indiana University's vaccine mandate IU parents protest school's vaccine mandates Indiana University backtracks on requirement for proof of COVID-19 vaccine in fall MORE (R) in May slammed the requirement, and issued a nonbinding opinion that the school's initial policies ran afoul of state law, because the school required students to submit proof of vaccination.

But he also noted at the time that there was no law prohibiting the school from requiring vaccinations.

The university also backtracked on its requirement to show proof once state lawmakers passed the ban on "vaccine passports."

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It’s not uncommon for colleges to require immunizations, and in his ruling that spans just over 100 pages, Leichty noted Indiana requires all public university students to receive vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella and meningococcal disease.

Leichty said the students did not appear to have a reasonable chance of success on the merits.

"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," he wrote.

He added that despite the students' claims, the school's policy is not coercive. 

“The court isn’t saying a student doesn’t have the right to choose,” he wrote. “Of course every individual does — subject to the state’s reasonable measures designed to pursue legitimate ends of disease control or eradication.”

In addition, there's no constitutional right to a college education. While the students may be deprived of attending the university if they refuse vaccination and do not qualify for an exemption, Leichty noted that they have options.

"Taking the vaccine, applying for a religious exemption, applying for a medical exemption, applying for a medical deferral, taking a semester off, or attending another university or online," Leichty wrote.

In a statement, a university spokesman said the school appreciates "the quick and thorough ruling which allows us to focus on a full and safe return.  We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester."

-Updated at 2:47 p.m.