Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita released a non-binding opinion Wednesday stating that public universities in Indiana cannot require students to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccine but can require students to be vaccinated.
IU announced students, faculty and staff will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine for the fall semester and report their vaccination status using a self-report form, where they will have to include documentation of their vaccination. Rokita wrote the opinion in response to a request by two lawmakers who believed the requirement to be in violation of House Bill 1405, which prohibits vaccine “passports,” or documented proof of a COVID-19 vaccination.
Rokita’s opinion states that IU’s policy “unquestionably violates the new law” due to the required proof of vaccination on the reporting form. If any student, faculty or staff does not show proof of vaccination, they will not be able to continue their enrollment or employment at IU, with no available alternatives, such as continued mandatory testing or remote work.
The new law in question prevents state and local government agencies, boards or any other governmental entities from requiring or issuing vaccine passports. It does not prohibit requesting proof of COVID-19 immunization, provided that refusing to do so does not lead to negative consequences, according to Rokita’s opinion.
Because previous court rulings have found public universities to legally be a unit of the state and because there is no explicit exemption for universities in the law, this law applies to public universities, according to Rokita’s opinion.
In a statement to the IDS, IU spokesperson Chuck Carney said requiring the COVID-19 vaccine is the only way to return to in-person classes and events and a more typical university experience. He said the opinion affirmed the legality of requiring the vaccine.
“His opinion questions specifically the manner in which we gathered proof of vaccination,” Carney wrote. “Although we disagree with that portion of his opinion, we will further consider our process for verifying the requirement.”
Because all COVID-19 vaccines currently in use in the United States have Emergency Use Authorization under the Food and Drug Administration rather than full approval, some opponents of the vaccine mandate argued universities should not be allowed to mandate an “unapproved” vaccine. According to Rokita’s official opinion, no state law prohibits an entity from mandating a vaccine that has not undergone the full approval process. COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and clinical trials with tens of thousands of participants.