This article about vaccine mandates for anyone with a previous COVID-19 infection was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.
Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.
In this post, I set out the debates around allowing those with a previous COVID-19 infection to be exempt from U.S. vaccine mandates.
A quick reminder– the virus is SARS-CoV-2, while the infection with the virus causes the disease, COVID-19 (or just COVID).
The policy takeaway point is that while, in my view, the choice to allow those with a previous COVID infection an exemption from vaccine mandates can be reasonable, the choice not to allow an exemption also has very good policy reasons behind it.
Since it is a valid policy choice, mandates without such an exemption cannot, in my view, be legally challenged. Those wanting their institution to exempt them because of natural immunity need to convince their institution to do so, and if the institution refuses, do not have viable legal recourse. Under our current law – rightly – in uncertainty, the policymakers have the flexibility to choose the option they think is safer.
I am not a scientist, and I think this is an area of substantial scientific uncertainty. But I have to start by setting out some background, and I will try to summarize what I think we do and do not know.
I will add that my thoughts on this have developed. When I came into this topic, I thought a previous infection should be grounds for exemption. Now, I think there’s an argument both ways, and in fact, the argument against an exemption for the previously infected is stronger – though an institution would still be on solid grounds if it chose to give one, for policy reasons.
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