Earlier this month the Biden administration announced COVID-19 vaccination mandates for millions of Americans.
His plan will require all federal government employees and contractors to be vaccinated, as well as all healthcare workers that work at Medicare and Medicaid facilities. The plan also directs the Labor Department to mandate vaccines at any business with 100 or more employees.
The plan has been met with expected criticism from republican lawmakers and others across the country. It could affect nearly 100 million American workers in total.
The Centers for Disease Control reported as of September 23, 64% of Americans had received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. The total number of fully vaccinated Americans stands at just over 180 million, and the Biden administration hopes these mandates will spur another 80 million Americans to get their shot. As of July 2021, 99% of COVID deaths in the U.S. were made up of unvaccinated patients, according to CNET.
Locally, Health Partners, who owns the Amery Hospital and Westfield’s Hospital and Clinic in New Richmond recently announced their decision to require all staff to be vaccinated. This decision was met with criticism and protest.
In Osceola, Osceola Medical Center CEO Matt Forge said they encourage all residents to get vaccinated and are aware of the federal policy, but stopped short of saying outright that the hospital would mandate vaccines in the future.
“OMC recognizes vaccination as the best action to minimize risk of the most serious health complications caused by the virus, and encourages all to strongly consider it,” Forge said. “We are also very aware of regional and national policy and will willingly incorporate that guidance into our plans.”
OMC did not respond to further questions about the status of vaccine mandates at the hospital.
Vaccine mandates have been a regular part of U.S. history for over two centuries, as has been hesitancy to comply with them.
In 1777 George Washington required every man under his command to be vaccinated for small pox. The first state mandated vaccine in the history of the United States was implemented in 1809, when parts of Massachusetts began requiring residents to be inoculated for smallpox. More local mandates followed, almost always focusing on smallpox as well. In 1902 as another outbreak spread through parts of the east coast, Cambridge City, Mass. again declared that all adults over the age of 21 must receive a vaccine. A legal challenge was brought against the mandate by a local pastor named Henning Jacobson, who stated the mandate was “unreasonable, arbitrary and oppressive.”
Jacobson v. Massachusetts went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in 1905 the court sided with the state and upheld the mandate.
“The City of Cambridge had a real and substantial relation to the protection of the public health and safety,” read the court’s ruling on Jacobson v Massachusetts. “The police power of the state must be held to embrace, at least, such reasonable regulations established directly by legislative enactment as will protect the public health and the public safety.”
The case set an important precedent on vaccine mandates. The U.S. Supreme Court has since upheld other mandates, with religious exemptions. Today all 50 U.S. states require children to be vaccinated for various diseases and viruses in order to attend school.
The laws vary state by state, but most children are required to be vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, hepatitis A, diphtheria, meningococcal, rotavirus, chickenpox, tetanus and whooping cough.
These laws also faced legal challenges early on in their development. In the 1922 U.S. Supreme Court case Zucht v King, the court again sided with the mandate, stating the school district of San Antonio, Texas, could exclude unvaccinated students from their classrooms.
Many states also have laws requiring healthcare workers to be vaccinated against certain diseases. Legislative attorney Kathleen Swendiman laid out the reasons behind these laws in a Congressional Research Service report for congress in 2011.
“A number of professional organizations, including the Infectious Disease Society of America and the American College of Physicians, endorse the proposition that healthcare workers have a professional and ethical responsibility to help prevent the spread of infectious pathogens among patients and themselves,” she said. “Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, Wash. became the first hospital in the nation to make vaccination a condition of employment, and within three years the hospital reported 98 % coverage.”
The Biden Administration’s mandate stands apart from other constitutional mandates however, in that the power to implement these mandates has most often originated with states and local municipalities, not the federal government.
“Many states have laws providing for mandatory vaccinations during a public health emergency,” said Swendiman in the same report for congress. “Generally, the power to order such actions rests with the governor or with a state health officer.”
Swendiman goes on to say however that the federal government does possess the power under the constitution to “prevent the introduction, transmission or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the states, or from one state into any other state.”
There is no precedent at the federal level to reveal if that relates to vaccine mandates specifically.
Contemporarily, COVID vaccine mandates have already begun entering the legal arena. In August the Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging the vaccine mandate at Indiana University, according to a report from NPR. Laws prohibiting vaccine mandates have also been blocked in both Texas and Florida, according to the same report.