A federal judge has upheld Indiana University’s requirement that students and staff on campus be vaccinated against the coronavirus, but the ruling is unlikely to be the last chapter in the culture wars over vaccine mandates, reports the New York Times.
In his opinion, Judge Damon R Leichty said he weighed individual freedom against public health concerns in his ruling that the state’s flagship university could require vaccines.
Leichty’s ruling appeared to be the first case in which a university’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement has been upheld, yet in delivering the ruling he expressed his personal misgivings, citing individual freedom and self-determination.
Somebody could point to “a certain Emersonian self-reliance and self-determination as preference – an unfettered right of the individual to choose the vaccine or not”, Leichty wrote in his ruling. But he added that judicial restraint was required to avoid “superimposing any personal view in the guise of constitutional interpretation”.
His conflicted sentiments appeared to mirror a national division, as plaintiffs in the case vowed to appeal. A lawyer representing eight students at Indiana University, James Bopp Jnr, said the case turned on the right to “bodily integrity and autonomy”. ‘”What we have here is the government forcing you to do something that you strenuously object to, and have your body invaded in the process,” said Bopp, who is working with America’s Frontline Doctors, an organisation that has questioned the coronavirus vaccines and promoted the use of alternative treatments.
The New York Times says the lawsuit, and a similar case pending in California, illustrate how vaccine mandates by colleges and universities have become deeply divisive, even as vaccination rates lag in many states and COVID-19 variants are driving an increase in new infections.
While as many as 500 schools countrywide have said they would impose vaccination mandates when classes start in September, several states have gone so far as to ban requirements that college students obtain the vaccines, and similar bans may be imposed in others, according to Hemi Tewarson, executive director of the National Academy for State Health Policy.
The result? Vaccine requirements can differ considerably depending on whether a school is in a Republican-led or Democratic-led state, or whether a student attends a public school or private one.
The schools appear to be taking different paths, but both are pushing to get their students vaccinated, said Terry W Hartle, senior vice-president of the American Council on Education, an industry trade organisation. “The science is clear; it’s unambiguous,” Hartle said, adding that university presidents in many states have been forced to finesse their policies to avoid confrontation with state leaders and lawmakers.
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