- Several states have started using legal measures to combat swine flu
- In some states, people who violate isolation and quarantine orders may be fined or sent to jail
- Many people are worried about possible side effects associated with the swine flu vaccine
- Some European countries have announced mandatory H1N1 vaccines
There's been a lot of concern about the upcoming flu season and the chance that the dreaded H1N1 virus (the "swine flu") could mutate and thousands of Americans could die. Many states are preparing for such a health emergency.
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), some states have already begun putting measures in place to respond to the swine flu. These states include Florida, Iowa, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Washington. Measures may include involuntary isolation and quarantine. In some states, violators may be fined and/or sent to jail if they don't comply with the orders.
In addition, several states have declared a state of emergency in response to concerns over the H1N1 virus. Federal funding is available to combat a swine flu outbreak once a state of emergency is declared. These include California, Florida, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.
The Massachusetts Pandemic Response Bill
Massachusetts is close to passing the most thorough law concerning a response to health emergencies (the "Pandemic Response Bill" ). The statute was passed by the State Senate in April 2009. The bill is awaiting approval in the Massachusetts House.
If passed, the statute would give local public health authorities broad power. Citizens would be forced to comply with provisions aimed at controlling the spread of swine flu. For example, public health authorities would have the right to compel medical providers to vaccinate people, and forcibly quarantine or isolate individuals.
They would also be authorized to enter private buildings by force, conduct an investigation, and destroy anything determined to be contaminated. Those who don't comply with the statute may be sent to jail for up to 30 days, and also fined $1,000 per day until they cooperate.
Law enforcement will have the right to arrest any person who they have probable cause to believe has violated an order for isolation or quarantine, without a warrant. In addition, law enforcement and medical workers wouldn't be held criminally or civilly liable for any actions they take in good faith while carrying out orders.
Under the statute, public health authorities would be required to keep records of any individuals reported to be ill. Record requirements would include their name and location, disease, injury, or health condition, as well as the identity of the person reporting the case.
Swine Flu Vaccine: Mandatory or Voluntary
The swine flu vaccine is expected to be available in October. However, many fear the vaccine hasn't been adequately tested to ensure its safety. Concerns have been raised that there may be a replay of the 1976 swine flu debacle.
In 1976, several soldiers stationed at Fort Dix, NJ were diagnosed with a strain of swine flu similar to the virus that caused the 1918 pandemic. The 1918 virus killed about half a million people in the US and 50 million worldwide. In response, health officials quickly implemented the National Influenza Immunization Program (NIIP) to prevent a pandemic.
NIIP's goal was to vaccinate every person in the US. Unfortunately, the vaccine killed more people than the virus. According to the CDC, the vaccination program was stopped because the vaccine was found to cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).
Opponents of mandatory vaccinations have compared the 1976 NIIP to the current rush to implement a vaccination program even though the long-term effects are unknown. There is growing concern that federal and state governments will force people to be vaccinated despite safety concerns.
At this time, there are no plans for a mandatory vaccination program to combat the swine flu virus in the US. However, Greece and other European countries have already announced that the H1N1 vaccine will be mandatory.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Who pays when there are costs arising from government response to a crisis? What happens if there's a quarantine and you can't work, if you're sick or your workplace is closed, for example?
- If a government mandates vaccination, could it mandate no exceptions, even for reasons such as religious beliefs against such treatment?
- Are lawsuits against the government allowed if people are harmed due to action taken to combat an illness such as swine flu that could harm the larger public?