(The Center Square) – A federal judge in Louisiana has issued a temporary restraining order preventing Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine from mandating COVID-19 vaccination as a condition of student enrollment.
The decision is the latest development in a dispute involving several students, the private medical college operating at the University of Louisiana-Monroe and Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Landry actively opposes vaccine mandates, while VCOM asserts its mandatory vaccination policy is critical to keeping students, staff and patients safe.
“Even during a pandemic, we must protect the rights of our citizens,” Landry said immediately after the ruling. “I’m pleased with the court’s decision and glad these students can focus on what’s important; their education.”
Landry first approached the school when three students said they were retaliated against for refusing COVID-19 vaccinations.
“These complaints have included recordings of conversations with VCOM staff engaging in harassing and coercive conduct targeting students who have exercised their right to opt-out of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine,” Landry said in July.
The school rejected accusations of wrongdoing and maintains it has acted appropriately regarding health and legal obligations.
“The intention of VCOM’s coronavirus vaccine policy, is and always has been the safety of our students, the safety of our employees and workplace, as well as the safety of the patients being cared for by our students, faculty and staff,” VCOM said in an emailed statement.
The school granted the students religious exemptions after they filed a federal lawsuit, along with the attorney general, Aug. 4. Landry later backed out after Judge Terry Doughty of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana questioned the state’s standing.
The students continued their lawsuit, in part, because of restrictions that came with the religious exemptions, such as required vaccine education trainings, a prohibition on activities involving patients and only working with student lab partners who agree to work with unvaccinated students.
“VCOM has responded to the Attorney General’s letters twice by making minor amendments to our policy, but vaccination remains a requirement. This requirement is important as our students become medical providers in their first year,” the school said.
“Physicians and VCOM students, as medical providers, also have no right to be a vector in spreading the virus or infecting the unknowing patients they will care for, who would naturally believe the students would be vaccinated,” VCOM said.
Doughty sided with the students in his Tuesday ruling, saying the restrictions attached to the school’s religious exemptions would cause “irreparable harm” to the students. He added all VCOM students share the same risks outlined by the school’s administration by virtue of being at the University of Louisiana-Monroe.
“Although VCOM has an interest in protecting its students, its students are allowed to attend ULM functions, participate in ULM intramural events, study in the ULM library and mingle with ULM students, who are not required to get the vaccine,” the decision said.
Michael DuBos, the attorney representing the aggrieved VCOM students, said he was happy with the legal outcome.
“We feel it is important to respect individual rights, especially in a time of crisis. If not, it sets a dangerous precedent,” DuBos said.