In 1905, the Supreme Court ruled against a pastor, Henning Jacobson, who sued the state of Massachusetts for asking residents to take a vaccine after an outbreak of smallpox. “Genuine freedom for all could not exist under the application of a principle that recognizes the right of each and every person to use his or her own, be it in relation to himself or his property, regardless of the harm that may be done to others. ” Court ruled. “So it is the legally regulated freedom.”
This and other decisions have repeatedly reaffirmed this principle. Private companies can choose to hire, fire, or do business with employees unless they discriminate on the basis of a protected category.
There is still room for interpretation. Lawyers could argue that in previous cases, an emergency-only drug approved by the FDA was not considered, as will be the case with the early coronavirus vaccines. Or maybe a more conservative Supreme Court would be open to reiterating previous precedents.
The road to a coronavirus vaccine ›
Answers to your vaccine questions
With a coronavirus vaccine spreading out of the US, here are answers to some questions you may be wondering about:
- If I live in the US, when can I get the vaccine? While the exact order of vaccine recipients may vary from state to state, most doctors and residents of long-term care facilities will come first. If you want to understand how this decision is made, this article will help.
- When can I get back to normal life after the vaccination? Life will only get back to normal once society as a whole receives adequate protection against the coronavirus. Once countries have approved a vaccine, they can only vaccinate a few percent of their citizens in the first few months. The unvaccinated majority remain susceptible to infection. A growing number of coronavirus vaccines show robust protection against disease. However, it is also possible that people spread the virus without knowing they are infected because they have mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. Scientists don’t yet know whether the vaccines will also block the transmission of the coronavirus. Even vaccinated people have to wear masks for the time being, avoid the crowds indoors and so on. Once enough people are vaccinated, it becomes very difficult for the coronavirus to find people at risk to become infected. Depending on how quickly we as a society achieve this goal, life could approach a normal state in autumn 2021.
- Do I still have to wear a mask after the vaccination? Yeah, but not forever. The two vaccines that may be approved this month clearly protect people from contracting Covid-19. However, the clinical trials that produced these results were not designed to determine whether vaccinated people could still spread the coronavirus without developing symptoms. That remains a possibility. We know that people who are naturally infected with the coronavirus can spread it without experiencing a cough or other symptoms. Researchers will study this question intensively when the vaccines are introduced. In the meantime, self-vaccinated people need to think of themselves as potential spreaders.
- Will it hurt What are the side effects? The vaccine against Pfizer and BioNTech, like other typical vaccines, is delivered as a shot in the arm. The injection is no different from the ones you received before. Tens of thousands of people have already received the vaccines, and none of them have reported serious health problems. However, some of them have experienced short-lived symptoms, including pain and flu-like symptoms that usually last a day. It is possible that people will have to plan to take a day off or go to school after the second shot. While these experiences are not pleasant, they are a good sign: they are the result of your own immune system’s encounter with the vaccine and a strong response that ensures lasting immunity.
- Will mRNA vaccines change my genes? No. Moderna and Pfizer vaccines use a genetic molecule to boost the immune system. This molecule, known as mRNA, is eventually destroyed by the body. The mRNA is packaged in an oily bubble that can fuse with a cell, allowing the molecule to slide inside. The cell uses the mRNA to make proteins from the coronavirus that can stimulate the immune system. At any given moment, each of our cells can contain hundreds of thousands of mRNA molecules that they produce to make their own proteins. As soon as these proteins are made, our cells use special enzymes to break down the mRNA. The mRNA molecules that our cells make can only survive a few minutes. The mRNA in vaccines is engineered to withstand the cell’s enzymes a little longer, so the cells can make extra viral proteins and trigger a stronger immune response. However, the mRNA can hold for a few days at most before it is destroyed.
For the past week, I’ve spoken to executives at companies in various industries to find out if they require vaccination of employees or customers. Nobody wanted to speak in the file.
Almost everyone said they wanted to recommend the vaccine but not make it mandatory. Some said they tried to create a culture of trust and a vaccine mandate would undermine that trust. Others were concerned about legal liability if an employee experienced adverse side effects from the vaccine. Some said they would like to commission the vaccine, but feared a backlash could turn into a public relations nightmare.
This is not a hypothetical thought experiment. When the executive director of Qantas, the Australian airline, said he would require passengers to be vaccinated – “certainly for international visitors and people leaving the country, we consider it a necessity,” he said – the backlash was quick. A travel agent in the UK stopped booking flights with the airline, stating: “We believe that physical autonomy in relation to medical interventions is a personal choice and should not be imposed by companies on people.”
It’s understandable that leaders would be afraid to promote potential controversy, but leadership is about making tough decisions when the stakes are high. Just recommending the vaccine may not be enough.