Indiana University is one of more than 500 colleges in the United States that require students to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for the fall semester. But a new lawsuit calls the university’s mission into question.
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
More colleges and universities are demanding a COVID-19 vaccine from students and faculty before they return to campus this fall, but a new lawsuit in Indiana challenges one of those mandates. Elissa Nadworny from MediaFrolic joins us to talk about it.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: Hello, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Tell us what’s in this lawsuit.
NADWORNY: Well, a group of eight undergraduate students, a mix of undergraduate and graduate students, say Indiana University’s mandate is unconstitutional and violates their rights to personal autonomy. The university – which offers exceptions for religious and medical reasons, or if you’re attending school remotely – doesn’t require proof of vaccination under state law, but they say they need the vaccine because it supports a return for safe and normal operation in this one Autumn.
SHAPIRO: Now we have had experts on this program say that employers can require vaccinations. Can universities? I mean, what are the odds of this suit?
NADWORNY: Well, the legal issues vary from state to state, but nationally there is a long history of colleges and universities needing vaccines here. Take the vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. A survey of universities found that 87.5% require it. I spoke to Akin Gump’s Mike Vernick about this. This is a law firm that represents colleges and universities.
MIKE VERNICK: Given the cultural and political sensitivity around vaccine mandates, I don’t think you can vaccinate yourself before going to court. But I think they have a good chance of surviving challenges.
NADWORNY: There is the question of the EEA, the Emergency Use Authorization. That is new. But Vernick points to a case in a Houston hospital that prescribed COVID vaccines for employees. This policy was upheld in court, setting a precedent for colleges.
SHAPIRO: How common are these mandates in higher education?
NADWORNY: Well, they’re getting more and more common. More than 500 universities have announced vaccination requirements. Experts say there will be more to come, especially when full FDA approval comes in. Both Pfizer and Moderna applied. But these colleges are not evenly distributed across the United States, mostly because of politics. I spoke to Chris Marcicano from Davidson College about this. He has followed these demands.
CHRIS MARCICANO: Yes, there is a gap between red-state-blue-state. Public institution mandates are by far found in blue states, but there are red states where institutions have mandates.
NADWORNY: He says a big reason public universities want to avoid political struggle is because they need money from political leaders.
MARCICANO: This is a pretty high profile topic. Institutions, especially those that rely on state funds, do not want to drive their appropriators crazy. You know you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
NADWORNY: Even without restrictions, universities strongly encourage students and staff to get vaccinated and offer financial rewards and incentives – t-shirts, Starbucks gift cards. At the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, students could win free tuition and fees. Employees won a trip to Ireland to watch the Huskers play football. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have also published new guidelines for universities. A key element is on campus where everyone is fully vaccinated. They say colleges can return to full face-to-face learning without masking or physical distance.
SHAPIRO: This is Elissa Nadworny from MediaFrolic.
Thanks for your reporting.
NADWORNY: You can bet that. Many Thanks.
MediaFrolic transcripts are created by Verb8tm, Inc., an MediaFrolic contractor, on a deadline basis and created using a proprietary transcription process developed with MediaFrolic. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of MediaFrolic programming is the audio recording.