A federal judge on Monday validated a university’s decision to impose vaccinations against COVID-19 on its students and staff, a contentious issue at a time when classes are returning to the United States.
Judge Damon Lychee of the federal court in South Bend, east of Chicago, was the first to rule on the case, which remains subject to appeal until it reaches the Supreme Court.
The judge refused to suspend new sanitation rules put in place by Indiana University before returning to classes on its campuses between August 1 and August 15.
These rules require mandatory vaccinations for its 90,000 students and 40,000 employees, although it provides exceptions for religious or medical reasons.
Eight university students had sued the decision, arguing that it was a violation of their constitutional rights.
Judge Leachty wrote, the Constitution allows students to be denied medical treatment “under the principle of the right to dispose of their bodies.”
But it allows “a proper vaccination process to be implemented in the legitimate interest of public health (…) and that’s what the university did,” he ruled in the hundred-page decision.
The judge said that six of the eight complainants already benefited from the exception for religious reasons, but they did not want to wear masks or respect social distancing.
The vaccination campaign in the United States, which has made enormous progress against the pandemic, has stalled in recent weeks. About 68% of adults have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, but there are large geographic disparities.
Opposition to the vaccine is closely linked to political fractures in the United States. The right wing, especially supporters of Donald Trump, feels a great deal of animosity towards it.
For example, several conservative groups such as the Turning Point Students Union have launched a campaign against compulsory vaccinations in schools and are supporting demands in this regard across the country.
Universities are taking different positions on their behalf. Currently, half a thousand are required to immunize their students or staff against COVID-19.