As Indiana colleges and universities weigh requiring vaccines on their campuses this fall, Attorney General Todd Rokita released an advisory opinion on the policies implemented at Indiana University and Purdue University.
The opinion does not carry the force of law but noted that IU’s policy requiring vaccine documentation violates state law, while Purdue’s policy -- which merely encourages the school community to get vaccinated and submit proof -- does not.
The opinion is based on a new state law, HB 1405, that included language banning the state or local units from requiring an immunization passport.
In his opinion, AG Rokita said that because public universities are “arms of the state” they are included in that ban.
Rep. Chris Campbell (D-West Lafayette), who co-authored the original bill, said in a statement she disagrees with Rokita’s interpretation and even spoke with Purdue officials when the language around immunization passports was added.
“They responded that they were comfortable with the language as drafted and did not feel that the language would prohibit a requirement of proof of vaccine,” Campbell said. “If the authors of this legislation wanted to prohibit our colleges and universities from requiring a vaccine passport, they should have specified that within the bill.”
Colleges and universities have been weighing whether to require vaccines for a while now.
In early April, the American Council on Education released a policy brief that weighed the pros and cons of requiring vaccines as opposed to merely urging vaccination.
Later that same month, the American College Health Association advised that college and university students be required to get vaccinated for the fall “where state law and available resources allow.”
Now over 430 colleges and universities across the country are requiring vaccinations of at least some students or employees, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Last week, after announcing IU would require students and faculty to get vaccinated, IU Director for Vaccine Initiatives Dr. Lana Dbeibo said the step was important for returning the campus to normal.
“I don’t think the IU community wants to go into IU knowing that maybe 60% are vaccinated - or not knowing how many are vaccinated,” she said. “Especially having immunocompromised conditions.”
Purdue University declined to comment for this story, but Purdue President Mitch Daniels has previously encouraged the school community to get vaccinated and noted that those who do not will continue to be subjected to COVID-19 testing and could be excluded from some university events.
Vice President of the American Council on Education Peter McDonough said colleges and universities should be trying to get as many shots in arms as possible. But, he said, colleges and universities will still need to navigate state politics around the issue.
“Because folks who embrace the requirement issue as a vehicle for making an opposition point risk distracting from the ultimate goal of getting as many shots in arms as possible,” he said. “Colleges do not want to move the conversation away from ‘it’s good and important to get vaccinated,’ to ‘is it good and important to require one to be vaccinated?’”