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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Mandatory Vaccinations: Precedent and Current Laws

Kathleen S. Swendiman
Legislative Attorney

Historically, the preservation of the public health has been the primary responsibility of state and local governments, and the authority to enact laws relevant to the protection of the public health derives from the state’s general police powers. With regard to communicable disease outbreaks, these powers may include the enactment of mandatory vaccination laws. This report provides an overview of the legal precedent for mandatory vaccination laws, and of state laws that require certain individuals or populations, including school-aged children and health care workers, to be vaccinated against various communicable diseases. Also discussed are state laws providing for mandatory vaccinations during a public health emergency or outbreak of a communicable disease.

Federal jurisdiction over public health matters derives from the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, which states that Congress shall have the power “[t]o regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States ... ” Congress has enacted requirements regarding vaccination of immigrants seeking entry into the United States, and military regulations require American troops to be immunized against a number of diseases. The Secretary of Health and Human Services has authority under the Public Health Service Act to issue regulations necessary to prevent the introduction, transmission, or spread of communicable diseases from foreign countries into the states or from state to state. Current federal regulations do not include any mandatory vaccination programs; rather, measures such as quarantine and isolation are generally utilized to halt the spread of communicable diseases.

Date of Report: February 24, 2011
Number of Pages: 12
Order Number: RS21414
Price: $29.95

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