Vaccination requirements deservedly win the court battle against ignorance

St. Louis Post-Dispatch Editorial Board (TNS)
The Carnival Cruise Line ship Mardi Gras heads to Terminal 3 after arriving at Port Canaveral, Florida, on June 4, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

A federal judge has ruled that Indiana University has every right to require coronavirus vaccinations before students may return to class. The ruling is based on precedent as well as common sense. It should boggle the minds of smart, thinking people everywhere why educational institutions shouldn’t insist on defending the use of science and knowledge to combat the coronavirus — and the blatant ignorance associated with vaccine denial.

It never made sense that educational institutions can require vaccinations for polio, rubella, tetanus and other life-threatening diseases yet, somehow, the most deadly and contagious disease in our midst should be out of bounds for vaccination requirements. Hundreds of colleges and universities around the country are refusing to buckle under conservative anti-vaccine pressure, and a ruling by U.S. District Judge Damon Leichty should dramatically boost their resolve.

Indiana University announced that, starting with the fall semester, all students, faculty and staff must be fully vaccinated before being allowed back on campus. Students who fail to do so would have their class registration and campus-facilities access cards canceled. Faculty and staff would lose their jobs. Working remotely without complying with the vaccine requirement “is not an option,” the university says. The university issued an application for religious, ethical and medical exemptions.

Eight students challenged the rule in court, but Leichty denied their request for an injunction. The students’ lawyer compared the vaccination policy to the Tuskegee study, in which Black men were deliberately exposed to syphilis. Leichty, an appointee of then-President Donald Trump, rejected the comparison outright. Coronavirus vaccines protect people from disease rather than expose them to it. And the university’s right to protect the health of students, faculty and staff outweighs any supposed right of students not to abide by vaccination requirements, he ruled.

The ruling is consistent with other court decisions favoring common-sense precautions over assertions that people should be free to do what they want, regardless of the consequences. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis tried to impose a state law banning businesses from imposing vaccination mandates on their customers. The Florida law directly contradicted rules imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that required vaccinations as a condition for cruise ships to resume operations. A federal appeals panel ruled that Florida law cannot supersede federal government mandates when it comes to protecting public health.

That hasn’t stopped Republican politicians from promoting ignorance over fact. U.S. Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., tweeted on July 17 that the Biden administration “wants to knock down your door KGB-style to force people to get vaccinated. We must oppose forced vaccination!”

The choice of whether to be vaccinated remains with the individual. But vaccine deniers deserve to pay an increasingly high price for their recklessness — including being banned from cruise ships and universities.