History of vaccine mandates in the US

On Sept. 9, 2021, President Joe Biden announced new COVID-19 vaccine requirements for government employees, large employers, and healthcare workers to combat the latest surge in COVID-19 cases. Similar vaccine mandates like these are nothing new in the United States—they date back to the Revolutionary War, when smallpox outbreaks hindered the Continental Army as it fought British troops.

Public backlash against vaccine requirements also has a long history in this country, as protests have led states to grant religious and philosophical exemptions from such mandates. The requirement that children be vaccinated before attending public school has sparked debate about whether safeguarding public health trumps a child’s right to an education. Several landmark Supreme Court cases have upheld the idea that public health takes precedence.

The federal government has recognized the importance of vaccines for protecting public health by passing legislation and establishing agencies to oversee their safe manufacture and distribution. Stacker used online resources from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Cornell Law School to put together a timeline of important events in the history of vaccines and vaccine mandates in the U.S.

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