Health officials, employers and universities are all strongly encouraging people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Can they require it?
In a growing number of circumstances, experts say the answer is yes. In December, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission determined that it’s legal to require employees to get vaccinated as long as there are exceptions for medical and religious reasons.
There is also a legal precedent for states to require people to get vaccinated. In 1905, Cambridge, Massachusetts fined people who refused to get the smallpox shot. A pastor sued, but the courts said a community had the right to protect itself.
That’s what the City of San Francisco said it’s doing. City employees there will be required to be fully vaccinated. More than 500 colleges and universities are also requiring students to get vaccinated before they head back to class. Indiana University is one of them and eight students are suing.
“They’re being stripped of their constitutional rights to make medical treatment decisions for themselves,” the students’ attorney James Bopp Jr. said.
A university spokesperson said the university is confident it will prevail. Houston Methodist Hospital faced a similar lawsuit brought on by employees and it was dismissed by a judge.
There were 153 hospital employees who resigned or were fired for refusing to get vaccinated. The employees have appealed the judge’s decision.
Right now more than 53% of the people in the United States who are 12 years old and older are fully vaccinated. As we face the delta variant, which spreads more easily, health experts said every shot counts.