2021-09-30 11:55:28 The Right to Health

The Right to Health

The existence of the United States as a nation is due in part to an immunization mandate.

Smallpox was a serious enough problem for the beleaguered American army in 1777 that George Washington feared it would jeopardize the Revolution. At the Battle of Quebec, an outbreak had already resulted in an American defeat. To prevent further outbreaks, Washington ordered immunizations for all troops who had not yet been infected with the virus, which were administered quietly so the British would not learn how many Americans were sick.

It was effective. The number of smallpox cases fell precipitously, and Washington’s army survived an attritional war against the world’s most powerful country. As Ron Chernow wrote in his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Washington, “the immunization mandate was as important as any military measure Washington adopted during the war.”

In the decades since, immunization treatments have become safer (the Revolutionary War method killed 2% to 3% of recipients), and mandates have become more common, both in the military and elsewhere. They also elicited hostility from a small minority of Americans.

In 1905, a pastor from Cambridge, Massachusetts, took his opposition to a smallpox vaccine all the way to the Supreme Court, where he lost. While most Americans were celebrating the start of a mass vaccination campaign against polio fifty years later, there were still some dissenters. On April 13, 1955, a United Press wire-service article that appeared in newspapers across the country reported:

Hundreds of doctors and registered nurses prepared to begin the monumental task of immunizing millions of children across the country.

However, some hiccups arose. 4,000 parents in Maryland’s Montgomery County flatly refused to allow their children to receive the vaccine. Two Indiana counties objected, claiming that the plan smacked of socialized medicine.

Many vaccinations, few firings

We’re back in the midst of this cycle. Many workplace mandates had their deadlines this week, with many requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or risk being fired. The deadline for health care workers in California is today.

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