There has been a furor over coronavirus vaccination mandates which have come from both the federal government and the state of Oregon. If you are among those who view vaccination mandates as an infringement upon your personal freedom, it is time for a history lesson.

Before we were even a country, Gen. George Washington mandated smallpox vaccinations in 1777 for the Continental Army. While this mandate was unpopular, many historians credit it as a critical decision that led to our victory in the Revolutionary War.

Now we fast-forward to 1905 and Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the vaccination case heard by the Supreme Court. At the time, Massachusetts and ten other states had mandatory vaccination laws. Henning Jacobson, a Cambridge pastor, resisted a vaccination which had been mandated in 1902 to combat smallpox and was fined. When the case finally reached the Supreme Court, it ruled as follows:

“In every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand.” In addition, the court stated that “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.”

This decision became the precedent for future cases such as Zucht v. King in 1922 in which the Supreme Court held that a school system could refuse admission to a student who failed to receive a required vaccination. Eighty years later, school children are subject to the following vaccination regimen:

• Diphtheria and Tetanus toxoid-containing vaccine and Pertussis vaccine (DTaP or Tdap).

• Hepatitis B vaccine.

• Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR).

• Polio vaccine.

• Varicella (Chickenpox) vaccine.

It appears likely that the coronavirus vaccine will eventually be added to this list.

One of the primary tasks of any government is to keep its citizens safe. The U.S. spends over $700 billion each year on defense, roughly the same as the next eleven countries combined, to accomplish a portion of this task.

Public health is another area where our government strives to keep our citizens safe. For public health professionals, nothing is more difficult than addressing a pandemic. Initially, one is dealing with numerous unknowns. How rapidly will it spread and by what means? How deadly will it be for those who contract it? If public health officials act aggressively, they may later be accused of overreacting if the virus is not very dangerous; if they are more patient and it turns out to be as serious as the coronavirus, lives will unnecessarily be lost. In addition, public health officials may be dealing with a skeptical public, especially in the early stages of the pandemic.

We have certainly seen resistance in the U.S. to public health guidance, especially vaccination mandates, and this is prolonging the effects of the coronavirus. Here in Oregon as well as in Washington, our governors have issued vaccination mandates for state employees and many have seen fit to give up their jobs instead of getting vaccinated. Anger grew as we reached our vaccination target date of October 18; it appears likely that lawsuits will follow.

If you have given up your job rather than be vaccinated, my advice is to reverse your decision and try to get your job back as, over time, it will only become more difficult for the unvaccinated to secure employment. Anti-mandate lawsuits are likely to fail given a century of legal precedents and the success of prior vaccination mandates. What the Supreme Court stated in 1905 is just as applicable today as it was then — individual freedom has its limits.

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Rich Belzer served as director of federal marketing for an NYSE-listed computer company and was subsequently a senior executive with two NASDAQ-listed high-tech companies. He moved to Bend to join Columbia Aircraft, where he became VP of worldwide sales.

(3) comments

BuckeyeDuck

We'll stated and a great outline of the facts.

Skittish

The author quickly conflates vaccine mandates with a coronavirus mandate. Not all vaccines are the same, as each microbe is unique. Just because some mandates are rational, doesn’t mean any mandate is rational. As per his statement, “If you are among those who view vaccination mandates as an infringement upon your personal freedom, it is time for a history lesson,” I don’t need his cherry picked, out of context “history lesson” because he doesn't even attempt to differentiate C19 from other microbes and is not aware that a mandate isn't inherently justified by its own existence.

Perhaps he needs a history lesson as to why the United States of America was founded. The government doesn’t grant freedoms, it protects them. Sure they can be curtailed but the burden of proof is on the state. And there is better argument that can be made for coronavirus, but it simply hasn’t been made. Curtailing personal rights isn’t based on feelings, good intentions, or vague comity of the majority. You have to be specific and show how it is that the mandate actually provides benefit to the public at large and saves lives. And no, saying there’s a virus killing people and there is a vaccine against it, isn’t good enough. If you believe that, then you have a blind spot.

For example, the small pox virus has been eradicated. It was even more contagious than C19 and had a case fatality rate of 30%, not 0.3%. The small pox vaccine was much more effective and has resulted in the elimination of small pox except in laboratories. C19 is here to stay and we will all be exposed at some point, even if the vaccination rate was 100%. If you want the vaccine, you can get it, but it doesn’t matter if your neighbor has had the vaccine or not, you will still be exposed. Whether or not you die, is dependent on your specific risk factors. The vaccine doesn’t prevent infection or transmission, as everyone seemingly knows. In other words, making someone else accept a medical procedure that only makes you feel better, but has no effect on whether you die or not, isn't justification.

Now you might be thinking I don’t like mandates, but you would be wrong. I absolutely support specific and well reasoned mandates. I am ambivalent about C19, but understand why many are against it. If I were a history teacher, I would use opinion pieces like this one to teach how not to enact mandates, which is my main point. If you want as many people to accept mandates, don't do it the way C19 has been handled.

If in the future, we have another pandemic where even I completely support a vaccine mandate, we have sown significant distrust in many and we will all suffer the consequences for our current bungling of C19.

BuckeyeDuck

Sure Southlake, sure. Nice deflection.

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