18. The US Supreme Upheld the Power of the Government to Mandate Vaccination for Infectious Diseases
To Canada’s south, smallpox outbreaks in late nineteenth century America led to more widespread vaccination campaigns. Those, in turn, brought all the dumb anti-vaxxer objections out of the wood works. The 1879 founding of the Anti Vaccination Society of America was followed by organizations such as the New England Anti Compulsory Vaccination League, founded in 1882, and the Anti Vaccination League of New York City in 1885. American anti-vaxxers sued to repeal vaccination laws in several states, including Illinois, Wisconsin, and California, but lost. The most prominent of those cases began in 1902 after a smallpox outbreak in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when the board of health mandated the vaccination of all residents against smallpox.
A Henning Jacobson refused to get vaccinated on grounds that he should be able to do as he pleased with his own body. He was criminally charged, convicted, and appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court. In Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 US 11 (1905), the Supreme Court upheld the authority of states to enforce compulsory vaccination laws to protect the public from infectious diseases. It also ruled that individual liberty is not absolute, but must give way to the state’s police power. Subsequent decisions reaffirmed Jacobson and the primacy of the state’s power over individual rights when it comes to public health, such as Zucht v. King in 1922, which held that schools could deny admission to students who failed to receive required vaccinations.