INDIANAPOLIS – A federal appeals court is letting Indiana University keep its COVID-19 vaccination requirement for students in place, dealing another legal blow to a lawsuit challenging it.
The Chicago-based 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a ruling Tuesday that declared the lawsuit moot since seven of the eight students who sued the university had been granted religious exemptions and the other has withdrawn as a student.
Indiana University announced last May that the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for its some 115,000 students and employees at campuses around the state would take effect in the fall semester.
The students who sued the university argued that such vaccine requirements violate their rights to “bodily autonomy.” They also contended that COVID-19 vaccines differ from other immunizations frequently required for college students, such as for measles and meningitis, because of their newness and the lower risks that younger adults have of suffering from severe COVID-19 illnesses.
A federal judge in South Bend and the appeals court rejected efforts to block the mandate before Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett did the same in August.
James Bopp, the Terre Haute attorney representing the students, said Wednesday he didn't intend to drop the legal challenge despite the latest setback.
“The decision was not on the merits of the students' claims and we plan to press forward,” Bopp said.
Indiana University faced a political backlash from conservatives after announcing the vaccine mandate, prompting university officials to make providing proof of vaccination optional and allowing students and employees to attest to their vaccination in an online form.
University officials said the policy was aimed at keeping students and employees safe through required weekly testing of anyone not vaccinated, including those granted religious or medical exemptions.
The latest figures updated by IU last week show 91.2% of all students and employees at its campuses across the state were at least partially vaccinated. That breaks down to about 90% of IU's students and 94% of faculty members and other employees.
The highest student vaccination rates are at the largest campuses in Bloomington (95%) and Indianapolis (89%).
But none of the five other principal regional campuses were higher than 80%, with the lowest at the campuses in Richmond (70%) and Kokomo (73%).
Purdue University, which gave students the choice of submitting COVID-19 vaccination proof or agreeing to frequent testing, reported this week an 89% vaccination rate among the 60,000 students and employees on its main campus in West Lafayette.
Indiana University spokesman Chuck Carney said school officials were pleased with the appeals court joining with all other judges who've issued rulings allowing the campus vaccination requirements to continue.
“We certainly consider it a success, given IU's vaccination rate of over 91% across all campuses, and with serious cases on campus almost non-existent,” Carney said. “This successful management has allowed in-person instruction and research efforts to continue.”