Judge upholds MSU’s vaccine mandate against a professor who cited natural immunity

click to enlarge Michigan State University requires all students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19. - SHUTTERSTOCK
Michigan State University requires all students and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A federal judge has ruled against a Michigan State University employee who claimed in a lawsuit that the school’s vaccine policy is unconstitutional and irrational because she already has “robust immunity” after recovering from a COVID-19 infection.

Jeanna Norris, a supervisory administrative associate and fiscal officer at MSU, asked the court to block the vaccine mandate on the basis of natural immunity.

U.S. District Judge Paul Maloney on Friday denied the preliminary injunction, saying “there is no fundamental right to decline a vaccination” and “if she chooses not to be vaccinated, she does not have the right to work at MSU at the same time.”

Maloney also disagreed with the argument that the vaccine mandate is irrational because Norris has natural immunity. MSU’s mandate is based on guidance from state and federal health agencies, the judge wrote.

“Put plainly, even if there is vigorous ongoing discussion about the effectiveness of natural immunity, it is rational for MSU to rely on present federal and state guidance in creating its vaccine mandate,” Maloney said.

The New Civil Liberties Alliance (NCLA), a conservative-libertarian law firm that filed the lawsuit, said its weighing its next steps.

“Ms. Norris courageously brought this lawsuit to vindicate the constitutional rights of individuals with naturally acquired immunity to COVID-19 who are subject to irrational vaccine mandates,” Jenin Younes, an attorney with the NCLA, said in a statement. “While we are disappointed by today’s order, we are committed to fighting for the rights of COVID-recovered Americans to decline a medically unnecessary vaccine without having to sacrifice their livelihoods.”

In a similar case on Sept. 30, a federal judge ruled against a professor who argued that the University of California’s vaccine mandate shouldn’t apply to him because he has immunity from a past coronavirus infection.

In her complaint, Norris said her immunologist advised her that it’s not medically necessary to get vaccinated because recent antibodies tests showed she was immune to reinfection. But studies have shown that recovering from COVID-19 doesn’t guarantee immunity, and antibodies diminish over time. Research also suggests that vaccines offer stronger protection than natural immunity alone, especially against variants.

“If you have had COVID-19 before, please still get vaccinated,” CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said in August. “Getting the vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others around you, especially as the more contagious delta variant spreads around the country.”

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