As we continue to fight against the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important tools we have at our disposal is the vaccine. Fortunately, there are numerous vaccines that have been developed, proven to be safe, and shown to be effective. Unfortunately, we are still lagging behind herd immunity, which is why the virus is being given the opportunity to mutate. Right now, the Delta variant is raging throughout the United States, which is why many people are concerned that we are not being aggressive enough in this fight. Now, there are some people who are wondering if the best move is to mandate coronavirus vaccines for everyone who is eligible. What is the history of mandating vaccines in the United States? What does this mean for the future?

Looking at the History of Mandated Vaccines

When people get concerned about coronavirus vaccine mandates, they often look at legal precedent. How have the courts handled this issue in the past? That way, people can get a better idea of how successful they will be if they implement them moving forward. When taking a look at vaccine mandates, a few important points to note include:

  • The first state to encourage smallpox vaccination, one of the first vaccines we had available, was Massachusetts. This took place in 1802.
  • In 1855, Massachusetts was the first state to require the smallpox vaccine for school attendance.
  • In 1900 close to half of all states in the United States required children to be vaccinated before starting school.
  • In 1963, more than 20 states required vaccines for all children regardless of school attendance.

Even though these vaccine mandates were limited to the smallpox vaccine at first, more vaccines were required as they were proven safe and effective. This includes the measles vaccine, which was part of a prominent effort to eradicate the dangerous illness in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s. There is a precedent for children being denied school attendance if they are not fully vaccinated.

Taking the Government to Court: Pushback to the Mandates

Throughout history, there are plenty of times when parents and organizations have tried to take states to court to remove vaccine mandates. In every instance, they have proven to be unsuccessful. Even the Supreme Court has routinely sided with the states to mandate vaccinations for school attendance and the interest of public health.

There was one specific case in Jacobson v. Massachusetts where the justices stated that it was a reasonable use of police power to require vaccines for school attendance and that this did not violate the liberty of individuals provided by the 14th amendment. Requiring vaccination of school-aged children has been a valuable public health tool in decreasing deaths from certain diseases, though some states do allow exemptions.

Exploring the Benefit of Mandated Vaccines

Even though there are some people who are concerned about vaccine mandates, the reality is that vaccine mandates have been widely successful. The smallpox vaccine was the first vaccine to be required throughout the United States because it was one of the first ones available. Now, the smallpox vaccine is not even given to children because the infection has been completely eradicated from the face of the Earth. The same can be said for other illnesses that used to be common, including measles, mumps, and rubella. Because we have vaccines against these illnesses, they are virtually unheard of today, except in pockets of the country where the vaccination percentage has waned.

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