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Can the COVID-19 vaccine be required? A legal expert weighs in

The first doses of a COVID-19 vaccine have already been ordered for Colorado

COLORADO, USA — As we prepare for shipments of vaccines to arrive in Colorado, there will undoubtedly be people who refuse to be vaccinated. 

That raises the question of whether employers or the government can require people to get the vaccine.

RELATED: Colorado health officials place the state's first order for a COVID-19 vaccine

RELATED: VERIFY: Should you get a COVID-19 vaccine if you've already been infected with the virus?

We asked 9NEWS Legal Analyst Scott Robinson to help us understand the laws. 

(Editor's note: Responses may have been edited for context and clarity)

9NEWS: Can anyone require you to get vaccinated?

Robinson: Neither Governor Polis nor the executive director of the Colorado Department of Health and Safety has the power to require vaccinations. Colorado law does not give any person or group the power to require vaccination for COVID-19.  

Robinson points to a 1905 decision by the United States Supreme Court that gave states the authority to enforce mandatory vaccination laws. That’s the basis for requiring school children to get certain vaccines before going to class. But as of right now, there isn’t a law in Colorado or anywhere that would make getting a COVID-19 vaccine mandatory.

What court rulings have set precedent on the topic of mandatory vaccinations?

Robinson: Under a United States Supreme Court decision from 1905, states do have the power to require adults to have a vaccination. Because of this 1905 US Supreme Court case, all 50 states have some degree of mandatory vaccination of school children. There’s a potential of having 50 different states with 50 different rules.

So what about private companies? Can employers require their employees to get vaccinated before returning to work?

Robinson: The law is not clear as to whether an employer can or cannot require vaccination for COVID-19 here in Colorado, but I suspect many employers will do that or at least attempt to do that.

Is there legal precedent for private companies requiring that employees get vaccinated? 

Robinson: A lot of states have statutes requiring vaccinations for health care workers or for people who work in nursing homes. Those kinds of laws have completely been upheld by the lower courts.

Do you expect legal challenges to vaccination rules to continue to increase next year? 

Robinson: There is no doubt that the legality of required COVID-19 vaccinations will be the biggest legal issue in 2021.

RELATED: Colorado coronavirus latest numbers, Dec. 4

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