Are Mandatory Vaccinations Legal? Yes, Here’s Why

by Rushing McCarl LLP Sep. 02, 2021

Can universities mandate COVID-19 vaccines? The Seventh Circuit recently held that the answer is “Yes.” In Klaassen vs the Trustees of Indian University, Case No. 21-2326 (7th Cir. 2021), the court upheld a federal district court judge’s refusal to halt mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations at Indiana University.

The university had mandated COVID-19 vaccinations for everyone but those with medical conditions or anti-vaccine religious beliefs. Failure to comply with the university’s policy would result in dismissal from campus events and classes. 

In this lawsuit, eight students argued that the mandate violated their Fourth Amendment right to bodily autonomy. 

The district court judge and Seventh Circuit panel sided with the University, noting that the students had failed to prove that they would be irreparably harmed by the mandate and stating that a college education is not a constitutional right. Further, the university offered alternative options to students who refused the vaccine. Some of those additional options included learning online, taking a semester off, and attending another university.

Battles over the legality of mandatory vaccinations are nothing new. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), the Court ruled that states could require vaccination of all citizens. Further, mandatory vaccinations have been common throughout United States history. One of the first examples of this was the mandatory vaccine against cowpox in 1796

For now, Klaassen suggests that constitutional challenges to mandatory vaccination policies are unlikely to succeed, at least in the university setting. The case also suggests that if universities and other institutions want to implement mandatory vaccinations but reduce their legal risks, they should consider providing alternatives such as remote work options for students or employees who, for health or other reasons, refuse to get vaccinated.

The case is Klaassen vs the Trustees of Indian University No. 21-2326 (7th Cir. 2021)

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