Can States Require COVID-19 Vaccinations?

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Hi, it’s Danny Karon, your Lovable Lawyer, here with your quick shot of legal wellness. Today, I’m at the Cleveland Clinic because we’re not just talking about quick shots — we’re talking about vaccination shots.

Let’s get right to it and answer the question that everybody wants answered. Are compulsory vaccinations by the government legal? The short answer is yes. There’s no commentary, opinion, or politics baked into that answer. It’s simply yes.

Here at your Lovable Lawyer, you know I like to goof around, have some fun, and teach some legal wellness. But, this isn’t an opinion site. It’s a consumer law site and we talk about the law. There’s some objectivity to the law. Let’s talk about the answer to that question because it riles up a lot of people.

The first question is what government are we talking about? There’s state government and federal government. We’re talking about the state government. This authority derives from the 10th amendment to the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, which allows the states to enforce and enact necessary laws. That’s why when it came to mask mandates a few months ago, you heard all this discussion about state mask mandates and not federal mask mandates. That’s really the procedural part of this discussion.

Now let’s talk about the substantive part. What law makes it legal, or should I say not unconstitutional, for state governments to require vaccinations? The law derives from a U.S. Supreme Court case back in 1905 called Jacobson vs. Massachusetts. That’s the same law that formed the basis for a lot of the mask mandate discussions.

I got into that case with my daughter a few months ago when the mask mandate issue was hot. We wrote an essay on the constitutionality of mask mandates. We published it with Columbia Law School and we talked all about Jacobson vs. Massachusetts. It is still invoked to this day to defend and explain why such a practice, this time involving vaccines, is not unconstitutional.

Back in 1905, there was a problem involving an epidemic and smallpox vaccinations in the city of Cambridge. The government in Massachusetts wanted to require people in Cambridge to get vaccinated. Jacobson didn’t like it and went to court. The U.S. Supreme Court said it was not unconstitutional to require a smallpox vaccine.

Jacobson was invoked a few months ago as it concerned masks, but it’s even more appropriate now because we’re talking about vaccines just like they were talking about during the actual case.

In Jacobson, the court upheld a smallpox vaccination requirement in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The court ruled that the requirement didn’t violate Jacobson’s right to liberty or the inherent right of every free man to care for his own body and health in such a way as to him seems best. The court added that there are manifold restraints to which every person is necessarily subject for the common good. On any other bases, organized society could not exist with safety to its members.

From this, we can discern that the ideals of limited government do not absolve us of our social obligation to protect each other. We do not have a constitutional right to infect our neighbors. There’s your legal basis for why compulsory vaccinations are okay under the constitution.

The question then becomes: when can we expect to see mass vaccination mandates? I would predict we won’t. You saw what happened with masks. It didn’t go well and there was a lot of controversy. Texas and Florida just made mask mandates illegal. As it concerns vaccinations, I can’t fathom any states would want to take the chance and mandate them. It’s too bad because we need it but I can’t imagine it happening.

What can we take away from our discussion today? We need to encourage our friends and neighbors to get vaccinated. We need to encourage our friends and neighbors to encourage their friends and neighbors to get vaccinated. We need to reach that herd immunity or we’re going to go right back to where we were a few months ago.

That’s your quick, sobering, and important vaccination shot of legal wellness for today. If you want to learn more, please visit my website, subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I will keep putting out content to enhance your legal wellness and keep you all safe.

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