In 1777, there were no chants of “My Body, My Choice” at political rallies or by governors selling “Don’t Fauci my Florida” campaign t-shirts.
But George Washington’s decision to require Continental Army soldiers to be vaccinated against smallpox was not an easy one. There were no safe and widely tested vaccines like those used today for the coronavirus, and inoculation in the 18th century was controversial and risky. Healthy people had to be exposed to the smallpox virus by scratching it in the arm or inhaling it through the nose, usually causing a mild infection that resulted in immunity but also, sometimes, death.
Washington wrote that if its army was heavily infected, “we would have more to fear than the sword of the enemy.”
This was the first mass military inoculation, according to the Library of Congress. Since then, vaccination mandates inside and outside the military – and their opposition – have been woven into the fabric of American life. In fact, we are currently living with vaccination mandates – and not just for COVID-19.
But in the GOP’s playbook, vaccine warrants are a new concoction from the far left and freedom-hating government bureaucrats. Could long-standing vaccination mandates be the next target in Republican-led states like Florida? We once thought that would be a far-fetched possibility. Not so much today.
Want to attend state-funded Florida International University? You must show proof of two MMR vaccines, for measles, mumps and rubella. Vaccination against hepatitis B and meningitis is also “strongly recommended”, but not mandatory, and requires the signing of a waiver.
Want to work at the taxpayer-funded Jackson Health System? Whether you are a doctor or a cafeteria worker, you will need a flu shot and proof of MMR and chickenpox vaccination. The hospital system is also forcing workers to be vaccinated against COVID or face restrictions, such as wearing an N95 mask at all times. Religious and medical exemptions apply for COVID and flu shots, spokeswoman Lidia Amoretti-Morgado told the Herald’s editorial board.
Want to send your kids to a public school in Florida? Unless you have a religious or medical exemption signed by a doctor, be prepared to prove that they have received vaccines for polio, hepatitis B, chickenpox, MMR and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough).
Florida’s school mandate is stricter than that of other states like Colorado, where parents can oppose vaccination on “philosophical” grounds or because of personal beliefs. But don’t tell Florida lawmakers. They don’t need help coming up with bad ideas.
Do you remember smallpox?
Vaccination mandates have been a part of everyday life for Americans for over a century for the simple reason that they work to control or eradicate disease. Thanks to widespread vaccination, the last natural smallpox epidemic in the United States occurred in 1949.
Governor Ron DeSantis is leading the charge against local governments requiring COVID vaccination of employees, announcing at a recent press conference that he will begin fining local officials. The warrants appear to be a bigger issue than the misinformation that was spread during his own event, when a Gainesville employee took the stage to falsely claim that the COVID vaccine “changes your RNA.” DeSantis, apparently suffering from a case of amnesia, said he doesn’t even “remember” what the man standing next to him said.
Many say the COVID vaccine is just too new to be required. But the approval standards set by the Food and Drug Administration – which gave Pfizer full clearance last month after reviewing data from more than 40,000 people who took part in a clinical trial – are more stringent. than was in place in 1809 when the first state vaccine law was enacted in Massachusetts for smallpox.
In 1905, the United States Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts confirming a Cambridge City warrant. The court rejected the idea of an exemption based on personal choice because it would deprive the legislature of its function of “looking after public health and public safety”. In 1922, the court denied a challenge to childhood immunization requirements. More recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals dismissed a challenge to a Maricopa County policy that excluded unvaccinated children from school when there is an unconfirmed but reasonable risk of the spread of measles.
“The freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States to all persons under its jurisdiction does not imply an absolute right of each person to be, at all times and under all circumstances, entirely free from all coercion. There are many constraints that each person is necessarily subject to for the common good, ”the court wrote in the 1905 case.
In other words, the Supreme Court said that freedom does not give you the right to harm others.
Corn these days, the freedom that vaccinated Washington troops fought for has been turned into a cloak for anti-vaccine law and selfishness. These attitudes have always been a part of American society, but partisan politics has never played such an important role, with conservative principles mingling with vaccine reluctance.
Mandates at risk
And it raises a frightening possibility: If so many Americans think the COVID vaccine is harmful or ineffective, who can say that vaccination mandates for diseases we thought long ago wiped out won’t be called into question next?
Flawed – and later debunked – study and online conspiracies fueled by celebrities like Jenny McCarthy led many parents in the late 1990s and 2000s to believe MMR vaccines caused autism. There were 22 measles outbreaks across the country in 2019, the second highest number of reported outbreaks since measles was declared eliminated in the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
We are already seeing that the fervor against the coronavirus vaccine has jeopardized public access to information on vaccinations in general. Tennessee health officials, under pressure from lawmakers, halted all adolescent vaccination campaigns against COVID and other diseases in July. Health ministry employees have been urged to remove the agency’s logo from vaccine information given to the public, and the state has fired its top vaccine official. After the Tennessean broke the story, drawing national condemnation, the state resumed most of the outreach efforts.
We used to dismiss what happened in Tennessee as an isolated case of insanity. But today we cannot so easily dismiss the idea that madness could prevail against established and effective public health measures.
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