George Washington Ordered the First Mass Vaccination of U.S. Troops

People are pointing that out George Washington ordered the first mass inoculation of troops, as it was announced COVID vaccinations are set to become mandatory for the U.S. military.

The Pentagon has unveiled plans to make the vaccine a necessity for the army by mid-September, a move rubber stamped by President Joe Biden.

Biden issued a statement citing the Covid jab would be added "to the list of required vaccinations for our service members not later than mid-September," AP quoted.

Biden added: "Being vaccinated will enable our service members to stay healthy, to better protect their families, and to ensure that our force is ready to operate anywhere in the world."

Debate has raged over the vaccines, with critics citing safety and freedoms as dissuasive factors. Yet the statistics indicate the majority of new cases are among those who haven't been vaccinated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle P. Walensky claimed America was facing "a pandemic of the unvaccinated," with outbreaks among "parts of the country where we're seeing low vaccination coverage."

The new highly-transmissible Delta variant is now responsible for 59 per cent of new COVID cases in the nation, WebMD said, quoting CDC figures.

An internal CDC document, shared on the Washington Post, compared the Delta strain with past pandemics, saying: "Delta variant is more transmissible than: MERS & SARS, Ebola, Common cold, Seasonal flu & 1918 ("Spanish") flu, Smallpox."

It was smallpox which prompted Washington to issue the order for the Continentals, during his time as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.

Smallpox, caused by the variola virus, had been brought to America in the 17th century, and is described by the CDC as a "terrible disease," killing three out of ten people who contracted it.

Washington himself caught the virus in 1751 while on a trip to Barbados, website explained, when he was a teenager.

"Washington was only nineteen years old at the time and the illness, which lasted nearly a month, left him only with slight scarring. The brush with smallpox, however, did provide Washington with immunity from further attacks of the disease, the benefits of which would not become apparent until many years later," the site said.

The disease was rampant among troops, as the Library of Congress (LOC) noted: "Among the Continental regulars in the American Revolution, 90 per cent of deaths were caused by disease, and Variola the small pox virus was the most vicious of them all."

At the time inoculation, which involved being infected with a less-deadly version of the disease, often with the pus or scab matter from an existing patient, involved quarantining for a few weeks while infectious.

Having troops incapacitated in this way could have been detrimental to the war effort, yet Washington recognized the need for the program to be rolled out among soldiers as a matter of urgency.

In a letter dated January 6, 1777 to Dr. William Shippen Jr, Washington ordered the "unpopular" inoculation of all forces passing through Philadelphia, as well as new recruits.

An excerpt said: "Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army... we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy."

He wrote to Congress on February 5 that same year informing them of the plan, and over the next few weeks his commanding officers carried out the operation.

Painting of George Washington.
Painting of George Washington. People are pointing out the former president ordered the first mass inoculation of troops. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

There were fears surrounding the practice, as the LOC explained: "Conversely, the history of inoculation in America (beginning with the efforts of the Reverend Cotton Mather in 1720) was pocked by the fear of the contamination potential of the process. Such fears led the Continental Congress to issue a proclamation in 1776 prohibiting Surgeons of the Army to inoculate."

But it was a major success, as isolated pockets of small pox outbreaks among continental troops "failed to incapacitate a single regiment," the LOC noted.

"With few surgeons, fewer medical supplies, and no experience, Washington conducted the first mass inoculation of an army at the height of a war that immeasurably transformed the international system," they added.

The former president's campaign was highlighted after politician Josh Mandel, who declared he's running in the U.S. Senate state election in Ohio, shared a Tweet on August 9.

Ohio's former state treasurer said: "The Founders would have tarred and feathered Dr. Fauci," referring to infectious disease expert Dr Anthony S. Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the President.

The Founders would have tarred and feathered Dr. Fauci.

— Josh Mandel (@JoshMandelOhio) August 9, 2021

The tweet has amassed hundreds of comments, as people pointed out Washington's historical significance in the history of vaccinations.

L. Ron Howard replied: "You mean like George Washington? The one who mandated vaccinations for the troops?"

"Funny story George Washington actually mandated vaccines and the Founders made him President... twice... and would have given him a 3rd term had he not stepped down," another wrote.

And Brielle Claremont added: "Actually George Washington was very fond of mandatory vaccination. Ben Franklin wrote movingly about his regret about not inoculating his son who later died of smallpox."

The excerpt she refers to is from Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which says: "In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the smallpox taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation.

"This I mention for the sake of the parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen," as quoted by the The National Center for Biotechnology.

Editor's pick

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts