Indiana University announced June 1 a change to its COVID-19 vaccination requirement policy after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita’s May 26 official public opinion that called the requirement illegal.

Several Statehouse Republicans opposed the policy, which IU announced May 21. Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola, signed on as one of 19 state legislators to a letter penned by Rep. Jim Lucas, R-Seymour, that asked Gov. Eric Holcomb to block IU’s vaccination requirements for the upcoming fall semester. The letter dated May 25 calls on Holcomb to prohibit any state university from mandating vaccines that don’t have full U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval.

“This session, members of the Indiana General Assembly passed legislation to codify in law a prohibition on COVID-19 vaccine passports, preventing public institutions from mandating proof of vaccination as a condition for receiving services or employment,” Rokita said. “Indiana University’s policy clearly runs afoul of state law — and the fundamental liberties and freedoms this legislation was designed to protect.”

In response to a request from State Representative Peggy May field (R-Martinsville) and State Senator Andy Zay (R-Huntington), Rokita wrote that House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1405 expressly prohibits state or local units from issuing or requiring proof of immunization status. Indiana law and numerous cases have held public universities to be “arms of the state,” and therefore required to abide by the mandates set out in this new law.

IU responded that while it disagrees on Rokita’s view of the requirement, it will review how it requires the vaccination in its statement that follows:

“Indiana University is requiring the COVID-19 vaccine because it’s the only way the university can confidently return to the experiences and traditions our students, faculty and staff have told us are important to them: in-person classes, more in-person events and a more typical university experience.

“In yesterday’s opinion, the attorney general affirmed that it is legal for us to require a vaccine, including one under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA). His opinion questioned specifically the manner in which we gathered proof of vaccination. Although we disagree with that portion of his opinion, we will further consider our process for verifying the requirement.

“The science is clear that we need a higher rate of immunity within our IU community. With the new requirement, most restrictions on masking and physical distancing this fall, as outlined in the fall health and safety guidelines announced this week, can be lifted. Requiring the vaccine is the best and fastest way to make sure that happens.”

Rokita said that while HEA 1405 prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccine, it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself. “In its current form, Purdue University’s COVID-19 vaccination policy does not appear to violate HEA 1405,” Rokita said in an news release. “Based on the information available, Purdue will require vaccination only for certain optional activities – no different than the guidelines universities have implemented for certain groups, like athletic teams, since the onset of the pandemic.”

According to Purdue’s May 11 update, students who provide valid documentation of full vaccination status against COVID-19 will be exempted from mandatory surveillance testing during the fall semester.

After IU’s response, members of the Indiana Senate Republican Caucus announced that they had sent a letter to IU President Michael McRobbie that urges the university to reconsider and rescind the policy mandating all students and staff receive the COVID-19 vaccine.

In part, the letter states, “We have grave concerns regarding your latest decision to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all students, staff, and faculty at all Indiana University campuses—a vaccine that has only an emergency-use authorization, rather than full FDA approval. This heavy-handed mandate goes against many of the liberties on which our founders built our democratic republic. Furthermore, it would force young Americans—statistically the lowest at-risk demographic — into a decision based on economics rather than health and individual responsibility. If they refuse to yield to the university’s vaccine order, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could lose state and federal aid; some students will lose scholarships; still others could lose deposits because they cannot walk away from binding lease agreements; and employees could find their jobs in jeopardy. Given these realities, it’s no surprise that we have heard from students, parents, faculty, and concerned Hoosier taxpayers (the men and women whose hard-earned money helps fund Indiana University) sharing valid concerns about being coerced into an impossible situation.”

The university announced June 1 that it would make vaccination exemption forms available June 2, sooner than previously stated. As part of the process, vaccinated students will no longer be required to upload documentation that proofs their status. They can merely attest to their vaccination status, while those providing proof will receive unspecified “special incentives.”

The new guidelines go into effect Aug. 1 for all students, faculty and staff on its campuses.

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