WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court refused Thursday to block Indiana University's requirement that students be vaccinated against Covid-19 to attend classes in the fall semester.
It was the first legal test of a Covid vaccination mandate to come before the justices. A challenge to the policy was directed to Amy Coney Barrett, the justice in charge of that region of the country, who denied it. There were no noted dissents from other justices.
Eight students asked the court for an emergency order, arguing that the risks associated with the vaccines outweighed the potential benefits for the population in their age group. "Protection of others does not relieve our society from the central canon of medical ethics requiring voluntary and informed consent," they told the justices, seeking an emergency order to block the vaccination requirement.
A federal judge ruled last month that the school had a right to pursue "a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff." The students have many options, the judge said, such as applying for exemptions, taking the semester off, viewing classes online or attending other universities.
The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Chicago, agreed. It noted that the Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that a state can require all members of the public to be vaccinated against smallpox. Indiana's requirement is less demanding, the court said, allowing exemptions for students who object on the basis of medical conditions or religious beliefs.
Similar lawsuits brought by students are pending in federal courts challenging the Covid vaccination requirements imposed by the universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts and the sprawling California State University system.
According to a tally maintained by The Chronicle of Higher Education, more than 670 of the country's colleges and universities require students to be vaccinated. They include such public institutions as UCLA, Michigan State University and the universities of Maryland and Colorado. Private schools with vaccination mandates include Stanford, Harvard, Duke and Notre Dame.