News articles and health board reports describe crowds of parents marching to schoolhouses to demand that their unvaccinated children be allowed in, said Michael Willrich, a professor of history at Brandeis University, with some even burning their own arms with nitric acid to mimic the characteristic scar left by the smallpox vaccine.The past is prologue once again. But let's be crystal clear, the SCOTUS has firmly ruled that vaccine mandates are not only constitutional and legal, their ruling invokes the connecting logic that no one person's liberty can override communal health concerns in times of communicable diseases spreading and threatening everyone in our society.
"People went to some pretty extraordinary lengths not to comply," said Professor Willrich, who wrote "Pox: An American History," a book about the civil liberties battles prompted by the epidemic.
On Monday, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, tweeted that vaccine mandates were "un-American." In reality, they are a time-honored American tradition.
But to be fair, so is public fury over them.
The roots of U.S. vaccine mandates predate both the U.S. and vaccines. The colonies sought to prevent disease outbreaks by quarantining ships from Europe and sometimes, in the case of smallpox, requiring inoculations: a crude and much riskier predecessor to vaccinations in which doctors rubbed live smallpox virus into broken skin to induce a relatively mild infection that would guard against severe infection later.
Legally speaking, the Supreme Court resolved the issue of mandatory vaccinations in 1905, ruling 7-2 in Jacobson v. Massachusetts that they were constitutional. The Constitution "does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint," Justice John Marshall Harlan, known for defending civil liberties, wrote. "Real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others."