ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: Effort to block COVID-19 vaccine at IU is political pursuit

This editorial was originally published May 28 on KPC News’s website.

This past week, a group of 19 Indiana House members signed on to a letter asking Gov. Eric Holcomb to use executive action to ban Indiana University from requiring students be vaccinated against COVID-19 for the start of the 2021-22 school year.

Ignoring the irony of 19 Republican lawmakers who worked this past session to strip the governor of executive power to respond to a public health pandemic now asking him to use executive action to impose their will, the effort appears to land more in the realm of political pandering than genuine concern about the health and safety of college students.

Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita issued his own advisory opinion agreeing that IU is in violation of a new law passed by Hoosier Republican that banned use of “vaccine passports,” documentation to prove someone has been vaccinated.

“HEA1405 only prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the COVID-19 vaccine; it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself,” Rokita wrote.

Talk about semantics to the absurd. That’s akin to saying we don’t prohibit schools from issuing grades to students, we just prohibit them from using report cards to document those grades.

Rokita notes that, although Purdue University would also require proof of vaccination among immunized students similar to IU, it may not violate the law because it also provides the option for students to not get vaccinated, although they would then have to submit to regular monitoring and testing for COVID-19 instead.

The legislators make the argument, too, that the vaccine can’t be mandated because it’s not received full approval from the Food and Drug Administration yet, although Pfizer has applied just this month for full FDA approval of its vaccine, a process that, at its quickest, could potentially be complete by the end of this year.

It’s not like requiring vaccines at school is new territory in Indiana.

To enter kindergarten in Indiana, students must be vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B; diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; and varicella, more commonly known as chickenpox.

Students are also required to have a meningitis vaccine upon entering middle school, and 11 Indiana colleges require students to also get an additional meningitis B vaccine. Five of those 11 universities added that requirement in 2019, less than a year before the COVID-19 outbreak and there was no outrage to be had then.

We strongly suspect many of these lawmakers would continue to oppose vaccine requirements even after a full FDA approval. If not, why else would they pass a law trying to ban proof of vaccination at universities in the first place?

The vaccines work well, evidenced by sharp declines in cases, hospitalizations and deaths seen among inoculated populations.

They’re safe, as evidenced by extremely low rates of serious side effects.

Schools have a prerogative to protect to their students from disease, as evidenced by long-standing statutes requiring vaccination of students ranging from kindergarten through college against other communicable diseases.

IU is duty-bound to maintain the health and safety of its students and staff members. It has a compelling purpose to shield its campus from disease.

If that is “unconscionable” to some, no one is mandated to attend IU.

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