News broke yesterday that a federal judge on Sunday night had upheld Indiana University’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate, dealing a blow to America’s Frontline Doctors, a right-wing group that regularly shares misinformation about the pandemic and was heavily involved in the suit.
Damon R. Leichty, a federal judge in the Northern District of Indiana, ruled against (pdf) a petition for a preliminary injunction by eight Indiana University students who said the requirement would violate their constitutional rights. Under the vaccine mandate, which allows religious and medical exemptions, students must be vaccinated to attend in-person classes for the fall semester. In his opinion, Leichty, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump in 2018 and confirmed by the Senate the following year, rejected claims it amounted to “forced vaccination.”
The “Fourteenth Amendment permits Indiana University to pursue a reasonable and due process of vaccination in the legitimate interest of public health for its students, faculty, and staff,” the judge wrote. “Though the students may have to forego a semester of school or transfer somewhere else — certainly a difficult and inconvenient choice, and not one lightly tossed aside — they have options.”
America’s Frontline Doctors is made up of anti-vaccination physicians and has opposed Covid-19 mitigation measures and supported the use of hydroxychloroquine and other unproven treatments. The group is shouldering the cost of appealing the case, the students’ lawyer told The New York Times. In January, the group’s founder, Simone Gold, was arrested after reportedly participating in the storming of the US Capitol.
In June, another Republican-appointed judge threw out a lawsuit challenging Houston Methodist Hospital’s employee vaccination mandate. One of the plaintiffs in that suit described Covid-19 vaccines as “experimental,” a misleading narrative that draws on a distortion of the emergency use authorization granted to multiple Covid-19 vaccines in the US.
Early reactions to the Indiana ruling suggested it may be used to advance existing misinformation narratives about vaccines. Robert Barnes, a lawyer and YouTuber who has appeared on the conspiracy theory program, The Alex Jones Show, tweeted, “Terrible ruling that basically tries to restore the 19th century case law where governments could force vaccine, force sterilizations, and force populations into detention camps in the name of ‘safety.’ Will be contested on appeal,” a reference to the misinformation narrative that Covid-19 vaccines are part of a campaign of mass sterilization and social control. — Keenan Chen