Students sue over California university’s COVID vaccine mandate, saying shots could harm them

BY SAM STANTON

JUNE 25, 2021 09:57 AM,

UPDATED JUNE 26, 2021 10:36 AM
Sacramento County Public Health partnered with the National Guard to give COVID-19 vaccines in their new mobile vaccination trailer, Wednesday, May 19, 2021, outside the Valley Hi Library. They will host pop-up clinics throughout the county. 

Three California State University, Chico, students who have recovered from COVID-19 are suing the school, saying the California State University system’s requirement that they receive a COVID-19 vaccine before returning to class in the fall places them at risk of dying.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of Austin Higley of Grass Valley and Kyle Clark and Ryan Clark, both of Rocklin, says all three students contracted COVID-19 in January 2020 and subsequently recovered from the virus.

On April 22, the students received emails from the university informing them that once federal authorities officially license vaccines now being administered on an emergency-use basis “students, faculty and staff must be vaccinated or they will be precluded from the campus for the fall semester,” the lawsuit states.

The suit claims that individuals who have recovered from COVID “are at substantial risk of serious illness, including death,” if given the vaccines, which the lawsuit contends are not safe and names federal officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, as defendants.

“The federal defendants continue to issue official recommendations, upon which the state defendants have relied, that every person in the United States receive the COVID-19 vaccine which recommendations are falsely premised on their contention the COVID-19 vaccines are safe,” according to the lawsuit, filed by Carson City, Nevada, attorney Peter Gibbons.

Federal and state officials have repeatedly said the vaccines are safe and that their distribution nationwide has largely staved off spikes in infections and allowed for states to reopen after more than a year of protests over restrictions that include mandatory face coverings, social distancing and other precautions.

The reopening process has been accompanied by a nationwide debate over how and whether individuals should have to prove they have been vaccinated against the virus, and the creation in California of a database that allows vaccinated citizens to download a digital copy of their vaccination records.

CSU spokesman Michael Uhlenkamp said the university system is still working on a policy that will allow for some exemptions.

“In April, the California State University announced that it intended to require faculty, staff and students accessing campus facilities to be vaccinated against COVID-19 once one or more of the vaccines is fully approved by the FDA,” Uhlenkamp wrote in an email. “The university’s decision is in the best interest of our campus communities and will help protect students, faculty, staff and their families.

“The university is working on a draft policy that will allow for exemptions based on medical or religious grounds. As we aspire to increase in-person instruction and activities this upcoming fall, the CSU continues to encourage members of our campus communities to receive a COVID-19 vaccination.”

The lawsuit, which targets CSU’s 23 campuses including Sacramento State and would affect more than 485,000 students and nearly 56,000 faculty and staff, claims that once the vaccines are approved for general use the students “will lose their right to choose their own health care unless the State Defendants’ mandate is enjoined.”

The suit asks for a court-ordered injunction that would stop CSU from requiring vaccines to attend class.

Higley said in a declaration filed with the suit that he is a biological sciences major with a focus on plant science and that he has about a year and a half to go on his studies.

He wrote that he received an email on April 22, 2021, from I received an email from Chico State President Gayle E. Hutchinson stating that the university system “has mandated that all students, faculty, and staff must be vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus before the start of the fall semester.”

“I do not consent to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” he added.

The Clarks filed similar declarations with the suit, which includes Hutchinson’s email noting that the vaccine requirement had been announced by CSU Chancellor Joseph Castro.

“This announcement, made in tandem with University of California President Michael Drake, means that students will attend universities with safer collegiate environments in the fall,” the email states. “The requirement will be conditional upon one or more of the vaccines gaining full approval by the FDA, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks, as well as the adequate availability of fully approved vaccines.”

The email added that officials “will provide updated information on timing of vaccine requirements, how students will verify they have been vaccinated, and the exemptions process once it becomes available.”

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