Calls for Mass Immunization of U.S. Students in 1981 Resurfaces Amid Mandatory COVID Vaccine Debate

As the debate over COVID-19 vaccinations rages across the globe, parallels with extraordinary immunization events in America's history have been drawn.

Austria has emerged as the first country in Europe to enforce COVID-19 vaccinations on its population from February 1, 2022. It was announced on Friday by Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg, who also declared the nation will be going into another full lockdown on November 22.

Closer to home, vaccine mandates for various sectors of the workforce, including federal employees and contractors, have been announced, while New York's vaccine mandate for teachers and staff came into force in October.

For students, inoculation is now a requirement at Los Angeles Unified School District—the nation's second-largest—for those aged 12 and over. While at least 1,100 colleges and universities required proof of COVID-19 vaccination, AP reported.

But it's not the first time mass immunization has been attempted to be implemented in schools. A newspaper article from the Miami News, printed nearly 40 years ago to the day, is circulating on social media, detailing a measles crisis in Dade County.

Twitter user @SFDB shared the clipping to their page on Thursday, captioned with the first line of the article.

"About 18,000 Dade high school students not currently immunized against measles, mumps and other diseases could be banned from school until they get their shots," says the introduction.

Published on November 17, 1981, the headline simply says "18,000 students must get shots," adding: "Have proof or go home, health department says."

The article continues: "The Dade County Health Department will ask the School Board tomorrow to approve sending home all 10th, 11th and 12th-graders who do not have state certificates of immunizations as of March 1...

"A new state law requires all public school students to have certificates in order to attend school. The state is giving individual school districts until August to comply with the law...

"Under a proposed plan, school and health officials would concentrate on immunizing the high school students between now and March. Parents with children lacking immunization certificates would get a letter by Dec. 15 informing them of the requirement."

The move is believed to have been part of the Measles Elimination Program, a concerted effort to eradicate measles by 1982, with a push beginning in 1978. Measles was finally eradicated in the U.S. in 2000.

Volume 189 of the Journal of Infectious Diseases noted: "By 1981, all 50 states required measles immunization (or history of disease) before initial school entry, and in most states, the requirements extended throughout primary and secondary school and to licensed day care centers."

The Miami newspaper article was later retweeted by former professional basketballer Rex Chapman, who noted: "Wow. 40 years ago today."

It amassed more than 11,000 likes, as people shared their own opinions on the historical cases and COVID-19, as well as pointing to other similar points in history.

Derly Uribe wrote: "Such a policy should be a no brainer. If parents still refuse to immunize their children, send them to a private school that does not require COVID vaccine or home-school. It ain't hard."

Dr. Lawrence Taylor commented: "I was in college then and we required to get another Measles shot or you could not go to class. This was in Florida. GoNoles! #FSU."

Anthony added: "That's what they told us in Columbus, Ohio no graduation without measles shot in 1987."

While Hecubot said: "Just four years ago they had a Whooping Cough outbreak in California and they required that every public school student get their Pertussis vax before they allowed them back in. Vax requirements are not a new thing."

Outbreaks of whooping cough have occurred over the years in California, with epidemics declared in 2010 and 2014, according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information. Cases flared up again in the state in 2019.

The CDC carries figures showing the number of cases across the country every year from 1922 up to 2019, the last date they have statistics for. The last available year shows 18,617 cases nationwide.

Citing another example, John Norris wrote: "And Philadelphia 1991, don't forget. A measles outbreak so severe that vaccines were compelled on children whose parents objected. Judge made the kids temporary wards of the state, officials administered the shots, and returned them to their parents. You do what you gotta do."

Reports from the time claim more than 1,400 youngsters were infected, and at least nine died. A report in The New York Times from 2015 echoes Norris' assertions, claiming children were indeed temporarily made wards of the state, vaccinated, then returned.

While Alf referenced another event in recent memory, saying: "After the 2019 Measles outbreak, Washington state removed the personal and philosophical examination."

Washington's Department of Health also backs that up, with their website stating: "In May 2019, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill that removes the personal and philosophical option to exempt children from the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine required for school and child care entry."

The newspaper article from Miami drew dissenting opinions, however, as Marsclassicrock wrote: "Difference is you can still get COVID after getting the shot. Analogy doesn't hold up."

Iam5K wrote: "Only issue is Covid-19 is nothing when compared to measles or mumps. In the U.S. the death rate is 1.7%. It's interesting how people would let their child be injected with a virus, just because. I don't personally know 5 people that died from COVID Weird times we're in."

Measles is now part of the list of diseases schools require vaccinations for, according to the Immunization Action Coalition (IAC). The others are polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, mumps and rubella.

COVID could join the list in some, if not all, states eventually, which have varying vaccination requirements for other transmissible diseases.

Boy receiving measles vaccine in 1962.
Boy receiving measles vaccine in 1962. A resurfaced newspaper article details calls for mass immunization of students in Miami in 1982, Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images