The governor of Illinois signed an executive order on Thursday that requires all higher-education students and employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

In an unusual move, the order applies to both public and private institutions in the state. More often, state-college systems have imposed such mandates on all of their campuses, or states have required vaccinations of elementary- and secondary-school employees and other public workers, but excluded higher education and private colleges.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, appears to be “on solid ground in issuing this,” said Mark H. Moore, a partner with Reavis Page Jump, a law firm that serves higher-ed clients. Recent court decisions in favor of Indiana University’s vaccine mandate, as well as a 1905 Supreme Court ruling about inoculations against smallpox, suggest states have wide latitude to require vaccinations, Moore said.

The Illinois order applies to everyone who comes onto a campus at least once a week. People have until Sunday, September 5, to get their first shot.

The order allows exemptions for people who can’t get Covid vaccines for medical reasons or who object to vaccination because of “sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.” But those who cannot be vaccinated must be tested at least once a week. The Illinois Department of Public Health recommends PCR tests, not rapid antigen tests, the order states.


The order presented a predicament for Quincy University, a small, Roman Catholic liberal-arts college in rural western Illinois whose leaders have interpreted guidance from the Vatican as forbidding a vaccination mandate because the research and production of the Covid-19 shots used fetal-cell lines. Nevertheless, the college will follow the new executive order, said Brian R. McGee, the president.

“This is a state mandate, and the state has the ability to do that,” he said.

Although Catholic teaching says to resist immoral or unjust laws, this case is not quite so clear-cut, McGee thinks. “We’re weighing different goods in this particular case,” said the president, who has been vaccinated and has encouraged his employees and students to do the same.