Court case from 1905 holds up Ohio state vaccine mandates today

Published: Aug. 25, 2021 at 6:26 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The Ohio State University is the latest public university to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for students and staff.

As more colleges and states across the country require the vaccine for school and work, you may be wondering whether this is constitutional.

The short answer is yes, thanks to a court case more than 100 years old that still has staying power today.

The debate on vaccine mandates is not new.

A person’s right to liberty versus the state’s power to protect the public health and safety of its citizens has been argued in court for decades.

There is a long history in the United States of mandating vaccines.

Cleveland consumer rights attorney Daniel Karon teaches legal wellness on

He explained the Jacobson vs. Massachusetts case of 1905 came about as smallpox was sweeping through Cambridge.

You can read more about the case here.

“This guy Jacobson didn’t want to get vaccinated, because there was a statewide vaccination mandate that said if you don’t get vaccinated, you’re going to get criminally fined, I mean dollars out of pocket fined. And he didn’t like it. It went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court where the court ruled, hey listen essentially—you don’t have a constitutional right, call it ‘my body my choice,’ freedom of privacy, whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t exist insofar as you’re able to infect others,” Karon said.

But will this historical case hold up in present-day court? It turns out, it already has.

Indiana University, a state university, mandated vaccines for students and employees starting this fall.

Eight students filed a lawsuit that eventually worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, where Justice Amy Coney Barrett left the vaccine mandate in place.

Karon said this case is even stronger now because Indiana University, and now Ohio State too, made accommodations for students for religious reasons and health issues.

Karon said a lower court judge made another point on the case too.

“If you don’t want to get a vaccine, go to some other school in Indiana, we’re not making you go to IU, nobody’s forcing you to do that. No different in Ohio. Not everyone in the state has to get the vaccine, only those going to Ohio State. You don’t like it, go to OU, go somewhere else,” Karon said.

Many private employers are also requiring COVID-19 vaccines now, including large companies like Delta and United Airlines, Walt Disney World, and Google, with varying exceptions and accommodations.

Gov. Mike DeWine signed a bill in July banning vaccine mandates at public schools and colleges in Ohio.

But that only applied if the vaccine did not have full FDA approval, which the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine now has.

State legislators are now debating whether to make it illegal for employers to mandate vaccines.

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