Should a coronavirus vaccine be developed, students may hesitate to return to campus if their peers refuse to get vaccinated. But refusing a coronavirus vaccine may be illegal.
“If you refuse to be vaccinated, the state has the power to literally take you to a doctor’s office and plunge a needle into your arm,” explained Alan Dershowitz in an interview earlier this week.
Dershowitz is a Harvard Law school professor emeritus known for his civil liberties defense work. This law only applies to those vaccines which prevent the spread of contagious disease, Dershowitz further explained. It does not apply to those vaccines for diseases which only threaten the individual. A coronavirus vaccine, should one be developed, would fall under this category.
Dershowitz’s statement is good news for schools and universities, who could add the coronavirus vaccine to the list of vaccines they require their students to have in order to come to campus. Such a requirement could be enforced at the state level, where exemptions for school vaccination are currently established.
Schools across the country have closed their campuses in response to the pandemic and are scrambling to find solutions for fall semester, whether that be remote learning or adjusting campus life to minimize social gatherings. Many are threatened by the prospect of students refusing to pay full tuition for remote learning, but this would be detrimental to college budgets. The loss of income from room and board on top of reduced tuition could put many colleges out of business. Despite Trump’s baseless claims that “this is going to go away without a vaccine,” a vaccine could be the saving grace, and a state mandate could ensure it.
The American Medical Association’s Journal of Ethics explored this mandate in 2006 in light of the SARS pandemic. One hundred years prior to SARS, in 1906, the Supreme Court ruled in Jacobsen v. Massachusetts that “each state’s “police power” [which] gives the state authority to enact health laws of every description, including quarantine and vaccination laws, to protect its citizens.
In order to mandate vaccines, a board of health must deem that vaccination is necessary for public health or safety, the only exception being proof that the vaccines “would seriously impair health or probably cause death.”
Scientists around the world are racing to develop a coronavirus vaccine. The WHO reported five candidate vaccines in clinical evaluations and 71 more in the preclinical stage in April. On Monday, Moderna announced that their Phase 1 trials subjects were generating an immune response to the disease, but many experts warn it’s early still; “there’s really no way to know how impressive — or not — the vaccine may be.”
It’s difficult to predict when a vaccine will become available to the public. White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Deborah Birx claims a vaccine could be ready as early as January. But as director of Stanford Health Communication Initiative Dr. Seema Yasmin explains, “The fastest vaccine we previously developed was for mumps, and that took four years to develop. And typically it takes 10 to 15 years to develop a vaccine. So 12 to 18 months would be record-breaking.”
Once the vaccine is developed, it could become a requirement for all. “If a safe vaccine is to be developed for Covid-19, I hope it’s mandated, and I will defend it, and we’ll argue that in the Supreme Court of the United States,” stated Dershowitz.