Students at Rutgers University filed a federal lawsuit Monday arguing they shouldn’t be required to take COVID-19 vaccine shots, taking a stand against the mandate despite Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s recent refusal to block a similar rule at Indiana University.
Children’s Health Defense, a nonprofit health advocacy group, and 18 students sued Rutgers University, asking the U.S. District Court of the District of New Jersey to block the school from enforcing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that required students to show proof of documentation by Aug. 1.
Like some of the other lawsuits challenging vaccine requirements, the complaint alleges the requirement runs afoul of the Constitution and an individuals’ right to maintain control over his or her body, and specifically cites the right to reject a vaccine that’s not yet been fully approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
The three COVID-19 vaccines in use in the U.S. — Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — have received only emergency approval.
But Mary Holland, president of Children’s Health Defense, said the Rutgers case is different because the school first said it wouldn’t require the vaccine, then flip-flopped. The lawsuit also alleges the school is profiting from the vaccine requirement through its clinical trials on the three company’s vaccinations.
“No one should be forced or coerced into accepting any medical procedure against their wishes. When the low risk to young adults from COVID and the known and unknown risks from the vaccines are taken into account, Rutgers’ actions recklessly endanger its students,” she said.
Students who do not comply with the mandate could face losing scholarships, Ms. Holland added.
Peter Cordi, a plaintiff in the lawsuit, is an incoming senior who submitted a religious accommodation for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine but has not heard back from Rutgers on his exemption.
“After telling the student body that we wouldn’t be mandated to take the vaccine in January, Rutgers flip-flopped their position which caused many of us with medical, religious and philosophical reservations to the vaccine great anxiety. I am just trying to finish up three classes so I can get my degree and begin my career and the rest of my life. This vaccine now stands in the way of my aspirations,” he said.
A spokesperson from Rutgers said the university’s position is supported by legal authority.
“We are committed to creating a safe campus environment in fall 2021, and to support the health and safety for all members of the Rutgers community, the university updated its existing immunization requirements for students to include the COVID-19 vaccine,” the university spokesperson said.
Justice Barrett last week declined to block Indiana University’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, marking the first time the court has been asked to weigh whether requiring the shot is legal.
Students from Indiana University, citing concerns about risks associated with the vaccine, underlying medical conditions and natural antibodies, had asked the Supreme Court to step in.
Without referring to the full court, Justice Barrett declined, without comment, to issue an injunction.
Ms. Holland said she’s is not discouraged by last week’s lack of support from the Supreme Court.
“It’s extremely rare for the court to take emergency petitions,” she said. “There is just not a fully developed record.”
Dorit Reiss, a professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, also advised against reading too much into Justice Barrett’s decision.
“It may indicate that the Supreme Court is not in a hurry to hear these suits and not very sympathetic, but I would wait for more indications, and it would depend on the specific claims,” she said.