When Did U.S. Schools First Require Vaccinations?

June 9, 2013 in Trivia

Coughing ChildEver since the 1960s, federal and state agencies have come to be presumed authorities in requiring vaccinations for school attendance. These efforts got traction especially for the purpose of eradicating measles during the 1960s and 1970s. However, school admission vaccination requirements in the United States actually have been a matter of legislation and a subject of debate and controversy at least since the early 1800s.

According to The History of Vaccines, a project of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, the first state vaccination requirements for schools in the U.S. were put in place for prevention of smallpox from the 1850s forward.

Actually vaccination requirements were legislated and implemented unevenly and sporadically over the course of the 1800s. Boston was the first American city to require all children entering public schools to have proof of vaccination in 1827. At state levels, Massachusetts incorporated school vaccination into law in 1855, and New York in 1862 according to “School Vaccination Requirements: Historical, Social, and Legal Perspectives” published by the Center for Law and the Public’s Health at Johns Hopkins and Georgetown Universities. That study details a lengthy period of controversy associated with public vaccination, including extensive judicial involvement.

The Centers for Disease Control’s “Vaccination Mandates: The Public Health Imperative and Individual Rights” notes that by the early 1900s close to half the states had school admission vaccination requirements. By 1963, “20 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico had such laws, with a variety of vaccines being mandated.  However, enforcement was uneven.”

A historical chronology of various vaccines developed and introduced during the 1900s can be viewed online at chop.edu.