Could a COVID-19 vaccine be mandatory?

Researchers come closer to a vaccine as few reach the third stage of COVID-19 vaccine trials

Sabrina Thi / Talon

As researchers come closer to finding the vaccine for COVID-19, there are questions of whether we will need a vaccine to return to normality. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 65% of the population would take the vaccine. Can governments make the vaccine mandatory and what rights do people have if they are not willing to get vaccinated? 

There are four vaccines that are in the third stage of trials. In phase three of the trials, the potential vaccine is given to thousands of people who do not have COVID-19. Volunteers will be given two doses of the vaccine 28 days apart. Scientists will monitor the volunteers and ask for swabs of blood at random times to examine different responses to the vaccine. If the vaccine is effective, it will go to stage four and will be studied on its long-term effect and mass distribution. 

One of the vaccines in phase three is produced by the medical device company Johnson & Johnson, specifically by subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies. The company will have 60,000 adult participants for phase three. 

Johnson & Johnson is the fourth company doing trials in the United States behind Moderna, Pfizer/BioNtech and AstraZeneca. Johnson & Johnson is the only company that is doing a single dose vaccine which would require volunteers to only get one shot and would likely expedite the process. 

“We’re convinced that a single dose could be very efficacious,” Johnson & Johnson Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Paul Stoffels said in an interview with CNN. 

From previous trials done in both the United States and Belgium, Johnson & Johnson found that a single dose of the vaccine creates a resistant response and is ready for phase three of the trials. 

As earlier discussed, only 65% of Americans said they would get vaccinated, which means that 35% of Americans would choose to not receive the vaccine. On average, a community would need 60% of the population to get vaccinated in order to reach herd immunity.

According to Dr. Fauci, however, in order to achieve herd immunity throughout the United States, 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated. The question then arises of whether the government can make the vaccine mandatory with only 65% of the population willing to get vaccinated.

The short answer is yes – the government can make any vaccine mandatory. An example of this occurred back in 1901 in Cambridge, MassachusettsThere was a smallpox outbreak and the local government forced everyone over the age of 21 to get vaccinated or pay a $5 fine. This issue was brought before the Supreme Court in the Jacobson vs Massachusetts case in 1906. The court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the order did not violate the 14th Amendment and in fact was necessary to keep the community safe. 

More recently, in 2019, there was a high number of measles cases in Brooklyn, New York and officials declared a public health emergency. The city required that anyone over the age of six months who was not already vaccinated had to get vaccinated or pay a $1,000 fine

Vaccinations were made mandatory in those situations. Both of those cases, however, were not as widespread as the current COVID-19 pandemic. In California, the state legislature can create a law that requires all citizens who live in the state to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. 

“I know that there’s some questions going around asking whether it would be mandatory or not, but right now we don’t really know,” superintendent Dr. Tony Knight said. “But it is possible that they have a whole list of vaccines that are required.”

According to the CDC, children and teens are not as affected by COVID-19 but are more likely to be carriers.

“The vaccine should be mandatory in order to return to school because we don’t want to take chances because it’s already proven that teenagers can get COVID-19,” freshman Aaron Tamisen wrote to the Talon.

As of Oct. 8, Ventura County Recovers reported that 192,223 people have been tested for COVID-19 with 13,147 people testing positive. The current positive test rate is 6.8%. A total of 1,637 cases have been between the ages of zero and seventeen. Currently, the companies that are developing the COVID-19 vaccine have not begun trials on children. Once the vaccine is developed companies will then begin testing on children –in which case it could take up to a year or more before it is available for public distribution.

“The article stated that epidemiologists don’t think that the COVID-19 would be available for children until next school year,” Knight said. “The question would be if enough adults get the vaccine for it to be safe in creating enough immunity in the general population for the virus numbers to be very small.”

In order for Oak Park High School and its activities to return to normal, Ventura County needs to meet the requirements set forth by Gov. Gavin Newsom. 

“They have this new system of purple and red and it’s a tiered system. It takes 28 days when the case numbers are low in order to reopen,” Knight said. “You’d be given an A or a B number in Q and if you were an A, you’d go [to school on] Monday and Tuesday and distance learning the following two days and [have] Friday [as] an independent work day.”

Tamismen expressed his belief that once a vaccine is available, the community will be able to return to life without social distancing and masks. 

“I think once the vaccine is made we should be able to go back to school and life in general without following social distancing protocols,” Tamisen wrote.