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Vaccine Blogs

Supreme Court Approved Vaccine Mandates 116 Years Ago

In a 1905 decision, the conservative justices appreciated the legality and importance of vaccine mandates

Chris Beyrer, Desmond Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights
Larry Corey, Professor of Medicine
December 6, 2021

In an essay recently published in The Hill newspaper, Chris Beyrer and Larry Corey detail a 1905 Supreme Court decision that demonstrates the constitutionality of vaccine mandates imposed by governments.

“As the Supreme Court made clear in a 1905 decision, the liberty we enjoy in this country does not give us the right to act to the detriment of others in all circumstances,” Beyrer and Corey wrote. “One of those circumstances is when personal decisions threaten the health and well-being of others. COVID-19, like smallpox, is colorless, invisible, and even more contagious. Talking, eating, singing, and shouting are major modes of transmission; one cannot identify who is infected, and one cannot discern who to avoid.

“What is needed for control,” they added, “is essentially universal vaccination and masking, and even then, the results will not likely provide complete eradication. But our society and economy will be able to fully recover.”

In addition, they wrote: “Vaccine mandates are fully in-line with our best science, and our best hope to control the delta and subsequent variants. It is time to recognize our mutual obligations to protect our children, our elderly, and our neighbors from disease — and accept the emphasis that our government places on this obligation.”

For the full essay, visit The Hill.

Chris Beyrer, Desmond Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights

Chris Beyrer, MD, MPH is the Desmond Tutu Professor in Public Health and Human Rights at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. A professor of Epidemiology, Nursing, and Medicine, he now serves as Senior Scientific Liaison to the COVID-19 Vaccine Prevention Network, and as co-editor of this blog series.

Larry Corey, Professor of Medicine

Dr. Larry Corey is the leader of the COVID-19 Prevention Network (CoVPN) Operations Center, which was formed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the US National Institutes of Health to respond to the global pandemic and the Chair of the ACTIV COVID-19 Vaccine Clinical Trials Working Group. He is a Professor of Medicine and Virology at University of Washington and a Professor in the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Division and past President and Director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.