The United States owes its existence as a nation in part to a vaccination mandate.
In 1777, smallpox was a problem big enough to the scruffy US military that George Washington believed it could endanger the Revolution. An epidemic had already led to an American defeat, at the Battle of Quebec. To prevent more, Washington ordered vaccinations – done discreetly, so the British wouldn’t know how many Americans were sick – for any troops who had not yet had the virus.
It worked. The number of smallpox cases has plummeted, and Washington’s military has survived a war of attrition against the world’s most powerful country. The vaccination mandate, as Ron Chernow wrote in his 2010 Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington biography, “was as important as any military action Washington adopted during the war.”
In the decades that followed, immunization treatments became safer (the Revolutionary War method killed 2-3 percent of beneficiaries) and tenure became more common, in the military and beyond. They have also tended to generate the hostility of a small minority of Americans.
A pastor in Cambridge, Mass., Took his opposition to a smallpox vaccine to the Supreme Court in 1905, before losing. Fifty years later, when most Americans celebrated the start of a mass polio vaccination campaign, there were still a few dissenters. A United Press service article that appeared in newspapers across the country on April 13, 1955, reported:
Hundreds of doctors and graduate nurses stood ready to take on the stupendous task of immunizing millions of children across the country.
However, a few snags have developed. In Montgomery County, Maryland, 4,000 parents categorically refused to let their children receive the vaccine. Two counties in Indiana objected that the plan smacked of socialized medicine.
Lots of vaccinations, few layoffs
We are going through this cycle again. The deadline for many workplace mandates arrived this week, often requiring people to have received a Covid-19 vaccine or risk being made redundant. In California, the deadline for healthcare workers is today.