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Mandatory Vaccination Has Been Constitutional for Over a Century

ABA: “While there is a lot of sound and fury these days about mandatory vaccination against the COVID-19 virus, it should ultimately signify nothing. Mandatory vaccination is 100 percent constitutional and has been for over a century. In Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC, 562 U.S. 223 (2011), Justice Antonin Scalia stated that “the elimination of communicable diseases through vaccination became one of the greatest achievements of public health in the 20th century.” Id. at 226 (2011) (quotation marks and footnote omitted). Justice Breyer, concurring, agreed. “[R]outine vaccination is one of the most spectacularly effective public health initiatives this country has ever undertaken.” Id. at 245. Bruesewitz effectively eliminated product liability litigation involving vaccines. The key mandatory vaccination case is Jacobson v. Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 (1905). A town facing a smallpox outbreak exercised its state-delegated power and imposed a mandatory vaccination requirement. A vaccination opponent sued, “insist[ing] that his liberty is invaded when the state subjects him to fine or imprisonment for neglecting or refusing to submit to vaccination” and “that a compulsory vaccination law is unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive, and, therefore, hostile to the inherent right of every freeman to care for his own body and health.” Id. at 26. He lost, 7–2. Justice Harlan (the elder) held:

T]he liberty secured by the Constitution of the United States to every person within its jurisdiction does not import an absolute right in each person to be, at all times and in all circumstances, wholly freed from restraint. There are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other basis organized society could not exist with safety to its members. Society based on the rule that each one is a law unto himself would soon be confronted with disorder and anarchy…”

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