Vaccines Mandates Work, But They’re Messy

“the country has long waxed and waned on whether to require kids to get vaccinated. School vaccine requirements have been with us a long time — nearly as long as public schooling itself. Smallpox vaccination — the only vaccine that existed early in the history of public education — was required for entry into Boston public schools in 1827. But for much of American history, mandates were inconsistently applied across geography and tended to come and go over time. For example, Washington and Wisconsin ended school vaccination requirements in 1919 and 1920, respectively, and during the 1920s, the Utah and North Dakota legislatures passed laws forbidding compulsory vaccination.

But mandates became more of a mainstay in the late 20th century, when a series of school-based measles outbreaks swept the nation in the 1970s — and it quickly became clear that vaccines could help. In Texarkana, a city split by the Texas-Arkansas border, the Arkansas side had a vaccine mandate and fared far better than the Texas side, which had no mandate. By 1980, every state had some kind of compulsory vaccination for school-age children. Annual cases of measles dropped from tens of thousands in the 1970s to fewer than 2,000 by 1983. During the 20th century, measles infected an average of more than 500,000 Americans each year. In 2005, after decades of school vaccine mandates and vaccination rates higher than 90 percent, it infected 66 people. Vaccines reduced the spread of disease, and making the vaccines mandatory all but eliminated it.”

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