Magazine December 20, 2021, Issue

Vaccine Mandates and the Body Politic

Michael Urnezis receives the polio vaccine while his sister, Joanne, a polio victim, observes, San Diego, April 15, 1955. (Bettmann/Getty Images)
Can the common good justify vaccine mandates in a fractured age?

American history offers two defining images of mass-vaccination campaigns. One is from April 12, 1955, when across the land, to the sound of church bells heralding the news that the first polio vaccine was a success, people poured into the streets to celebrate. The other is from three months ago, when a lugubrious President Biden announced a sweeping federal vaccinate-or-test mandate for workplaces while scolding, “Our patience is wearing thin.”

Our country has precedent for vaccine mandates, including ones with narrower exemptions. State laws nationwide mandate childhood vaccinations to attend school. In 1905, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court

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This article appears as “The Body Politic” in the December 20, 2021, print edition of National Review.

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