Universities and vaccine policy

August 2, 2021
Universities and vaccine policy

Vaccinate To Graduate?

A new legal ruling upholds a university’s coronavirus vaccine requirement for students.
The students say they will take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
What To Know: Why It Matters


  • Indiana University, a public college, announced in the spring that all students, faculty, and staff are required to receive a vaccine prior to the fall semester.
  • The university stated non-compliance with vaccination requirements could impact a student's future enrollment.
  • Why: The university states vaccinations "will allow the university to lift most restrictions on masking and physical distancing" and "make a ‘return to normal’ a reality for the fall semester.”
"(The students are) suing because they’re being stripped of their constitutional rights to make medical treatment decisions for themselves and to protect their own bodily integrity."

James Bopp Jr., lead attorney for a group of 8 students – including incoming freshmen and a doctoral student – who sued the university in June over the new policy. The students' lawyer has reportedly started preparing an appeal for the U.S. Supreme Court after a recent court ruling favored the university.

"People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere."

Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Frank Easterbrook, in the court's ruling supporting the university's decision to require vaccines based on the idea that colleges and universities have the freedom to decide safety precautions for students. The decision also states the university would have difficulties functioning if the majority of students, faculty, and staff were worried about the effects of COVID-19.

Why It Matters

  • This ruling may set precedent. About 640 public and private college campuses in the U.S. are currently requiring the vaccine for fall enrollment (out of approximately 4,000 universities in the country).
  • Exemptions: Indiana University's vaccine requirement contains exemptions for religious, ethical, and medical reasons.
  • Big Picture: Adults 18-29 years old have the lowest vaccination rate in the country (38%). A recent study reported nearly 1 in 4 young adults are hesitant to receive the vaccine.

Six of the eight students suing Indiana University have received exemptions from the vaccine for the upcoming school year, all citing religious reasons for their decision. Meanwhile, about 80% of the university's students have reported they received at least their first dose of the vaccine in preparation for the fall semester.

While we'll watch to see if any similar lawsuits reach the Supreme Court, it's important to note other states have passed legislation prohibiting vaccine requirements for public schools.

For more on this story from USA Today

Fore more about other colleges weighing the vaccination requirement

Some states move to block Covid-19 vaccine requirements in public schools

by Jenna Lee,