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COMIC: If history is a guide, schools will start requiring COVID vaccines

LA Johnson
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NPR

The first time kids had to get a vaccine to go to school was more than 200 years ago. The disease? Smallpox.

For the past four decades, all 50 U.S. states have required that parents, if they want to enroll their children in any school, public or private, must vaccinate them against contagious diseases like polio and measles. The reason is simple: High rates of vaccination dramatically cut deaths and have all but eliminated some diseases.

But as long as there have been vaccines, there have been people who oppose them, formerly known as "anti-vaccinationists." They have brought many legal challenges over the years, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of school vaccine mandates nearly a century ago, and that has pretty much been upheld to this day.

That said, there's also a strong tradition of granting exemptions to vaccine requirements based on religious and philosophical beliefs. There has also, at times, been lax enforcement and an unwillingness to punish students by keeping them out of school.

But when diseases break out or come back, so do vaccine campaigns and the really strong stuff: mandates.

Scroll on to take a look at a historical timeline of vaccines in schools:

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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<strong>1938: </strong>President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a polio survivor, founds the March of Dimes to fund polio research.<strong>Early 1950s: </strong>There are 25,000 to 50,000 new cases of polio each year in the United States. Polio is feared "second only to the atomic bomb" and mainly affects children under 5.It leaves many permanently disabled and some dead.
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<strong>1955: </strong>Jonas Salk introduces his polio vaccine after a field trial involving 2 million children, conducted in public schools. <strong>But the first mass vaccination program in the U.S. had to be halted when a lab error caused live virus to be injected into 200,000 children.</strong> The "Cutter Incident" led to the effective federal regulation of vaccines, but mistrust lingered.
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LA Johnson / NPR
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NPR

Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent at NPR. She joined NPR in 2014, working as part of a new initiative to coordinate on-air and online coverage of learning. Since then the NPR Ed team has won a 2017 Edward R. Murrow Award for Innovation, and a 2015 National Award for Education Reporting for the multimedia national collaboration, the Grad Rates project.
LA Johnson is an art director and illustrator at NPR. She joined in 2014 and has a BFA from The Savannah College of Art and Design.
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