Should the government make vaccination mandatory?

The Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating consequences raised the question of whether the government should make vaccination mandatory or optional

Rise of the Issue

In the U.S., vaccines and mandates for them date all the way back to the late 19th century, with the introduction of the smallpox vaccine. Since then, the Supreme Court has made multiple rulings upholding the authority of individual states to mandate vaccinations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supreme Court notably struck down the initial attempt from the administration of President Joe Biden to implement a national workplace vaccine mandate for COVID-19 through the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Later, the court upheld its decision against the mandate administered by OSHA, but allowed a mandate administered by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to go into effect. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has reignited the debate on vaccinate mandates, and whether they should be implemented. Supporters of vaccine mandates say that the mandates are implemented for the good of public health and safety, and that people who are against getting vaccinated pose a threat to vulnerable parts of the population. Meanwhile, people who oppose vaccine mandates say that the mandates are an invasion of personal privacy, and force people to do something against their will or religious beliefs.

Issue Timeline


Vaccine Act Passes

Congress passes the Vaccine Act of 1813 in an effort to encourage smallpox vaccinations. It establishes the U.S. Vaccine Agency, that ensures vaccine genuineness, as well as authorizes the postage-free distribution of legitimate vaccines to any U.S. citizen through the United States Postal Service.


Jacobson v. Massachusetts

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right for individual states to implement vaccination mandates, deciding that mandating smallpox vaccinations in the interest of public health does not violate 14th Amendment rights.


Zucht v. King

The U.S. Supreme Court upholds the right for municipal governments to implement vaccine requirements for students attending public schools, citing that public health and safety exceeds the right to education.


Prince v. Massachusetts

The U.S. Supreme Court decides that childhood vaccine mandates exceed the authority of parents, and that children cannot be exempt from these mandates on religious grounds.


California Eliminates Personal Belief Exemption

California becomes the first state to eliminate exemptions to vaccinations based on personal beliefs for children in both public and private schools.


Supreme Court Blocks COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

The U.S. Supreme Court blocks a workplace vaccine mandate implemented by President Joe Biden’s administration, citing that while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has the power to regulate occupational dangers, vaccines do not fall under its powers.

Micro Issues


Personal Choice

Supporters and opponents of vaccine mandates disagree on the importance of personal choice in getting vaccinated. While opponents say that everyone should have the right to choose whether to get something injected into their body, supporters say that the personal choice to not get vaccinated could threaten the health of others.


Public Health

Supporters and opponents don’t agree on whether public health and safety should come ahead of all other aspects of the issue. Supporters say that public health is a very important aspect, which has been supported by the Supreme Court in past cases, while opponents say that vaccines sometimes have insufficient testing and data to prove the positive impact they have on public health.


Religious Grounds

The two sides have differing views on the scope of vaccine exemptions and what should and shouldn’t be considered an exemption. Opponents say that some constitutionally-protected religious beliefs should allow for an exemption from vaccination, while supporters say that religion should not come at the risk of public health.



The two sides disagree on the degree of impact that vaccine mandates have on individual privacy. Opponents say that vaccine mandates violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), since they require the disclosure of medical information in order to prove vaccination status. Supporters say that the scope of HIPAA does not include vaccination status, and that vaccine mandates do not violate HIPAA.

Pro Arguments


Widespread vaccination has shown to be effective in reducing and eliminating communicable diseases.

Vaccines have been shown throughout history to be effective in reducing the impact of communicable diseases, and in some cases, completely eliminating them over time. Even in cases where vaccines are not able to prevent infection, they often lower hospitalizations by reducing the severeness of symptoms.


Vaccine mandates can speed up the process of reaching herd immunity.

By reaching herd immunity against a disease, populations can feel safer and more protected against that disease, as it will be less likely for that disease to be transmitted as easily. Vaccine mandates speed up that process, and as such reduce the chances of the vaccine mutating into more resistant and infectious strains.


Vaccine mandates are effective in significantly increasing vaccination rates.

By requiring people to get vaccinated, vaccination rates will naturally rise, giving communicable diseases less of a chance to mutate to avoid the vaccine. With higher vaccination rates, people can feel safer in returning to their normal lives.


Vaccine mandates are a trade-off for the good of public health.

Vaccine mandates have long been accepted as a requirement in several sectors, such as military and healthcare. Mandates could be seen as a reasonable requirement to have in order to ensure that people can go about their daily lives without the fear of catching a disease.


Vaccine mandates protect vulnerable parts of the population.

By requiring everyone who can get vaccinated to do so, the parts of the population that are unable to get a vaccination are also indirectly protected, since it will lower the risk of transmission to those vulnerable people.

Con Arguments


Vaccine mandates can be a potential invasion of privacy.

By mandating vaccines, and forcing people to show their vaccination status in order to go to work or travel, people can feel as though their personal privacy is being invaded.


Vaccine mandates force people to do something they may not want to do.

Vaccine mandates force people who may not want to get vaccinated for personal reasons to get vaccinated. People who don’t fully trust the effectiveness of the vaccine, or the healthcare system in general, may feel as though they are being wronged.


Vaccine mandates can be divisive for society.

By forcing a choice on people whether they want it or not, supporters and opponents of vaccines may be very vocal about their opinions, leading to conflict and divisiveness within society.


Vaccine mandates can cause workplace staff shortages.

Since vaccine mandates require workplaces to ensure their workers are vaccinated, workplaces that have large amounts of unvaccinated workers can encounter staff shortages while their workers either take time off to get vaccinated or simply quit.


Vaccine mandates could lead to discrimination.

People who hold constitutionally-protected religious beliefs that prevent them from getting vaccinated may feel as though they are being discriminated against, particularly if the mandates do not include exemptions based on these reasons.