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Federal Judge Upholds Indiana University's Vaccination Requirement For Students

CHICAGO (CBS/AP/CNN) -- A federal judge has denied a bid to block Indiana University's requirement that all students and employees get vaccinated against COVID-19 before returning to campus in the fall.

Eight IU students had sought a preliminary injunction prohibiting the university from enforcing its vaccination requirements while they pursued a lawsuit claiming that the university's policy violated both their constitutional rights and the state's new law banning vaccine passports. In a ruling issued on Sunday, U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty rejected their request.

"Recognizing the students' significant liberty to refuse unwanted medical treatment, the Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a
reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff," Leighty wrote in a 101-page opinion. "The students haven't established a likelihood of success on the merits of their Fourteenth Amendment claim or the many requirements that must precede the extraordinary remedy of a preliminary injunction."

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The judge said the students who object to receiving the vaccine shots can seek medical and religious exemptions offered by the university, while also having the option of taking the fall semester off or attending another school.

Indiana University praised the ruling in a statement.

"A ruling from the federal court has affirmed Indiana University's COVID-19 vaccination plan designed for the health and well-being of our students, faculty and staff," IU said. "We appreciate the quick and thorough ruling which allows us to focus on a full and safe return. We look forward to welcoming everyone to our campuses for the fall semester."

James Bopp Jr., the lead attorney for the plaintiffs and the director of litigation for America's Frontline Doctors, said they planned to appeal.

"Today's ruling does not end the students' fight—we plan to immediately appeal the judge's decision," Bopp said in a statement. "In addition, we plan on asking the judge to put a hold on IU's Mandate pending that appeal. We are confident the court of appeals will agree that the Mandate should be put on hold."

IU first announced its plan to require students, faculty and staff receive Covid-19 vaccinations before the fall semester in June. The university is one of more than 100 US colleges and universities that are requiring students to get vaccinated.

The US Supreme Court has long held that states and public schools can mandate vaccinations. Judge Leichty's ruling pointed out the state of Indiana's longstanding requirements for other vaccinations prior to going to school.

"Indiana requires all public university students to be vaccinated for diphtheria, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, and meningococcal disease before attending school. All but one of these vaccinations have been required since 1993," the ruling said.

In denying the motion, the ruling also points out the university allows for certain exemptions, including religious and medical reasons, and said that students therefore have "multiple choices, not just forced vaccination."

In late April, the state of Indiana passed a law banning state or local units from requiring an immunization passport, so any vaccine requirement must be based on an honor system.

Across the country, young Americans have been vaccinated at lower rates than older Americans, and young people and have also gotten infected more than any other demographic. People aged 18-29 make up 16.4% of the US population but account for 22.5% of all Covid-19 cases, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Generally, young unvaccinated people are less likely to have severe outcomes from Covid-19 than old unvaccinated people, but they still can get seriously ill and spread the virus to other people. Unvaccinated people also provide further opportunities for dangerous mutations to develop, such as the Delta variant.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press and the CNN Wire contributed to this report.)

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