Michigan State University employee sues over COVID vaccine mandate

Woman says people with COVID-19 antibodies should be exempt from vaccine mandate

Beaumont Tower at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich.
Beaumont Tower at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich. (WDIV)

EAST LANSING, Mich. – A Michigan State University employee is suing the university for its COVID-19 vaccine mandate because she believes the school must allow an exemption for people who have COVID-19 antibodies.

Jeanna Norris, a 37-year-old Michigan State administrative associate and fiscal officer, claims in her lawsuit against the school that she contracted the virus in 2020 and recovered, leaving her with natural immunity and without the need for vaccination against the virus. She said she received positive COVID-19 antibody test results in August. Furthermore, she said her doctor’s advice is not to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Norris said she faces discipline or termination from her job at Michigan State due to her decision not to receive the shot.

“I consulted with Dr. Hooman Noorchashm on August 21, 2021 and August 26, 2021 about receiving a vaccine in light of my natural immunity. Dr. Noorchashm advised me that immunization was medically unnecessary,” reads a declaration from Norris.

Michigan State University leaders announced the COVID-19 vaccine requirement for staff and students at the end of July.

“All students, faculty and staff are required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 with an FDA-authorized or WHO-approved vaccine by Aug. 31. Limited exemptions for medical or religious reasons will be provided,” read a statement from university President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. on July 30, 2021.

Norris wants her situation to count as an exemption. She believes “natural immunity” must be acknowledged by the school as an exemption because she is concerned there is an ”elevated risk of side effects from vaccination among those who have already survived a SARS-CoV-2 infection and are recovered within the past year.”

“The University is forcing me to choose between performing my professional duties to the best of my ability and protecting my personal health,” reads her lawsuit. “The University is also forcing me to choose between protecting my constitutional right to bodily autonomy, privacy and protection and keeping my job, which is the lifeblood of my family’s livelihood. I believe I will suffer irreparable injury (injury that money will not be able to make up for) to the extent my request for a temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction is not granted.”

Health officials urge COVID vaccinations despite antibodies

Health officials are urging people who test positive for COVID-19 antibodies to still get the vaccine. Dr. Jennifer Pisano, M.D., with the University of Chicago Medicine put it this way:

“While we know recovering from a COVID-19 infection means you will have circulating antibodies in your system, we are still learning about how the immune system handles the antibody response after a natural infection. We’re not sure how protective the antibodies are from different kinds of infections — such as an asymptomatic infection versus a symptomatic infection. With vaccination, we know that people with healthy immune systems are getting a great antibody response. So I would recommend vaccination even after a COVID-19 infection to get the best protection,” she wrote at the end of May.

The CDC explains that “getting vaccinated, even if you have already had COVID-19, can help your body make more of these antibodies.” Read more here.

“Evidence is emerging that people get better protection by being fully vaccinated compared with having had COVID-19,” reads a statement from the CDC on Aug. 19, 2021. “One study showed that unvaccinated people who already had COVID-19 are more than 2 times as likely than fully vaccinated people to get COVID-19 again.”

Read more here: Reduced Risk of Reinfection with SARS-CoV-2 After COVID-19 Vaccination — Kentucky, May–June 2021

The University of Michigan and Wayne State University have issued their own COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Read more: How Michigan universities are handling COVID vaccine requirements

Here is Norris’ full lawsuit:


About the Author:

Dave Bartkowiak Jr. is the digital managing editor for ClickOnDetroit.