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The Indiana University campus. Photo: Don & Melinda Crawford/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

A lawyer representing Indiana University students filed an emergency petition on Friday asking the Supreme Court to block the school’s vaccine mandate, one of many set to take effect this fall.

Why it matters: It's the first time the nation's high court has been asked to weigh in on the issue. Public and private entities are increasingly mandating vaccines amid surges in COVID cases due to the Delta variant.

State of play: IU students must be vaccinated unless they qualify for an exemption due to related medical issues or religious objections. If an exemption applies, they are required to wear masks and get tested twice a week.

  • Lower courts have upheld the mandate, citing a 1905 Supreme Court decision that a state can require vaccines against smallpox.
  • James Bopp, the students' lawyer, is asking the Supreme Court to act by Aug. 13. Justices will likely ask the university for its response, per CNN.

What they're saying: "IU is coercing students to give up their rights to bodily integrity, autonomy, and of medical treatment choice in exchange for the discretionary benefit of matriculating at IU," Bopp wrote in an emergency petition.

  • Students' resistance is "based on legitimate concerns including underlying medical conditions, having natural antibodies, and the risks associated with the vaccine," he added.
  • He also argues that the pandemic is coming to an end — despite rising case numbers in the U.S. — and that "community mitigation measures should be [accordingly] discontinued."

The other side: "These plaintiffs just need to wear a mask and be tested, requirements that are not constitutionally problematic," a panel of GOP-appointed judges on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the case earlier this year.

  • If a student does not wish to meet the conditions, they may "go elsewhere."
  • "A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading diseases," the court noted.
    • "Few people want to return to remote education — and we do not think that the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks and frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough."

An IU spokesperson told CNN last week that the university "remains confident" it will prevail because of a legitimate public health interest in ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff.

The big picture: Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has warned Americans not to let politics get in the way of schools safely reopening.

Go deeper

Oct 16, 2021 - Health

5 times as many police officers have died from COVID as from guns since pandemic began

Photo: Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for police officers even though members of law enforcement were among the first to be eligible to receive the vaccine, CNN reports, citing data from the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Why it matters: Nearly 476 police officers have died of COVID-19 since the pandemic started, compared to the 93 deaths as a result of gunfire in the same time period, according to ODMP and CNN.

Oct 17, 2021 - Health

Fauci: J&J recipients will likely be able to mix and match boosters

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will likely allow recipients of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 to mix and match vaccine boosters depending on their individual health, NIAID director Anthony Fauci told ABC News' '"This Week" on Sunday.

Why it matters: The FDA's vaccine expert panel on Friday unanimously endorsed booster shots for adult recipients of the J&J vaccine. The panel is also exploring the mix and match strategy but hasn't yet taken a formal vote on the matter.

Oct 17, 2021 - World

Melbourne, "world's most locked-down city," to lift stay-at-home orders

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews during a news conference in Melbourne, Australia, on Sunday. Photo: Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Melbourne's stay-at-home orders will end five days earlier than planned, officials in Australia's second-biggest city announced Sunday.

Why it matters: The capital of the state of Victoria has had six lockdowns totaling 262 days since March last year. That means Melbourne spent longer under lockdown than "any other city in the world" during the pandemic, Reuters notes.