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Will Indiana University's Vaccination Ruling Set a Precedent for Colleges?

Sample Gates at Indiana University campus

Michael Hickey / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • A federal judge recently ruled that Indiana University can require students to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
  • This court ruling may help other colleges and universities that intend to establish vaccine mandates as well.
  • Even without a vaccine mandate, institutions must employ public health strategies to ensure the safety of students, educators, and staff on campus.

A federal judge ruled in favor of Indiana University and upheld its COVID-19 vaccination mandate for students, faculty, and staff for this coming fall semester.

Back in June, eight students filed a lawsuit against the university, claiming that the vaccine requirement violated their right to personal autonomy and bodily integrity. It is the first case that evaluated the constitutionality of a university's COVID-19 vaccination requirement.

However, U.S. District Judge Damon R. Leichty denied their motion for a preliminary injunction against the vaccination policy, stating that students have plenty of alternatives such as taking online classes, applying for a medical exemption or taking a semester off.

Mandating COVID-19 vaccination continues to be a heavily debated topic, but this court ruling may set a precedent for educational institutions hoping to establish their own vaccine mandates.

Impact of Court Ruling on Educational Institutions

“In the face of the Delta variant and increasing COVID-19 cases across the country, maximizing vaccination remains the most important defense for individuals and communities, including college campuses,” Michael Huey, MD, interim chief executive officer of the American College Health Association (ACHA), tells Verywell.

The ACHA, an organization that advocates for the health and wellness of college students, recommends that higher education institutions establish COVID-19 vaccination requirements for on-campus students this coming fall. However, many factors hinder educational institutions from mandating COVID-19 vaccinations, and the power to do so generally varies from state to state.

“The ability of a campus to have a COVID-19 vaccination requirement is dependent upon state and local law, support of the campus leadership, and campus resources for vaccination and testing, and the requirement should follow the campus’ vaccination exemption practices, including exemptions for medical contraindications,” Huey says.

Michael Huey, MD

The single most effective public health intervention is to maximize vaccination. It is the only way that we can stop this pandemic.

— Michael Huey, MD

The recent court ruling can potentially set a precedent for K-12 schools, too, but vaccination in children and adolescents generally follows the recommended immunization schedule by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). On its 2021 Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule, the ACIP endorsed the use of COVID-19 vaccines but did not necessarily include it in the schedule.

“If ACIP adds a vaccine to its schedule, it is my expectation that schools will follow, and expect that children attending school receive that vaccine,” Sharon Nachman, MD, chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital in New York, tells Verywell.

Some experts say that mandating COVID-19 vaccines in children would be extremely beneficial, but ultimately premature. Instead, they recommend offering incentives such as the reimbursement of child care expenses associated with getting the vaccine.

What This Means For You

If you are a college student from an educational institution with a vaccine mandate, you’re required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before attending in-person classes, unless you have a medical or religious exemption. To look for available vaccine appointments near your location, visit vaccines.gov.

Ensuring the Safety of Students, Educators, and Staff

Vaccine mandates hope to establish high vaccination coverage on campuses, which is critical for ensuring low rates of COVID-19 transmission and protecting all students, educators, and staff.

“Our purpose is to protect both the individual from getting ill, as well as the public health aspect that no one in the school or building be placed at risk for acquiring that specific illness from someone bringing that illness into the school,” Nachman says. “We should be using all of the tools that we have to prevent illness from occurring and then from spreading.”

At a press briefing last week, Rochelle P. Walensky, MD, MPH, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), expressed that the U.S. is at another “pivotal moment” in the pandemic. Even though almost 70% of adults in the U.S. already had at least one vaccine shot, COVID-19 cases are on the rise again.

It is crucial to take all the necessary precautions to make higher education campuses safe for the approaching fall semester.

“It will be important for each university to assess vaccine uptake, the rate of new COVID infections and hospitalization in their community—especially with the highly transmissible Delta variant being the most likely variant at this time—and their willingness to hold in person classes,” Nachman says.

Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy that helps end the pandemic. But even without vaccine mandates, educational institutions should establish other strategies to protect individuals, Huey adds.

“These include determining the vaccination status of individuals and the campus as a whole, surveillance testing, and targeted mitigation strategies, such as masking, based upon community infection rates and campus vaccination percentages.” Huey says. "But the single most effective public health intervention is to maximize vaccination. It is the only way that we can stop this pandemic."

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American College Health Association. American College Health Association Recommends COVID-19 Vaccination Requirements for All On-Campus College Students in Fall 2021. Published April 29, 2021.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021 Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule. Published 2021.

  3. Gostin LO, Shaw J, Salmon DA. Mandatory SARS-CoV-2 Vaccinations in K-12 Schools, Colleges/Universities, and Businesses. JAMA. 2021;326(1):25–26. doi:10.1001/jama.2021.9342

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID Data Tracker. Updated July 28, 2021.

  5. The White House. Press Briefing by White House COVID-⁠19 Response Team and Public Health Officials. Published July 22, 2021.