Needle Point

By Jim McVeagh 25/10/2009 1


Obama has declared the Swine Flu epidemic in the US a national emergency. Swine Flu has been a public health emergency since April of this year, but making it a national emergency provides people like Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius quite sweeping powers to bypass most federal rules. I am a little curious as to why this is now deemed necessary. After all, when the Swine Flu news first broke, it sounded pretty scary. Mexico was reporting people dying like flies and the US border was clearly as porous as a sieve with no netting. Yet, at that time, Obama saw fit to declare only a public health emergency, freeing up stockpiled antivirals and kickstarting urgent research on a vaccine. Now that we know that Mexican H1N1 is hardly more dangerous than standard flu, responds to most antivirals and vaccine manufacture is well underway, why does Obama think it time to declare a national emergency? The health system does not yet need the extra stock of antivirals that the order releases (and there are other ways to release those stocks, if I recall correctly). What other advantage could be gained from such a declaration? Most newspaper articles rabbit on about making it easier to make decisions, including funding ones and information collection, but this is all quite peripheral and unlikely to cause great problems.

I suspect I am being paranoid (which doesn’t, unfortunately, mean I am wrong), but declaring a national emergency essentially revokes the right of habeas corpus in respect to the subject of the emergency (viz. the Swine Flu). Lawyers are welcome to correct me if I am wrong, but this entitles Sebelius to produce an emergency law making it illegal to refuse to have the Swine Flu vaccine. I suspect that the point of the declaration of a national emergency is a sharp needle point that all Americans are going to find themselves at the end of.

I certainly hope I am wrong.

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One Response to “Needle Point”

  • Perhaps Obama did as he did because at the time the flu was reported in Mexico and appeared in the states, it was getting into summer and any cases weren’t expected to overwhelm health services. Now winter is hitting, this looks like it has changed. The article states…”H1N1, declared a public health emergency earlier in the year, has killed more than 1,000 people in the United States and put more than 20,000 in the hospital since it emerged earlier this year…”….”swine flu has become widespread in 46 of the 50 U.S. states, a level comparable to the peak of ordinary flu seasons but far earlier and with more waves of infection expected.” and that’s at a period when the flu typically isn’t a problem. Further: “The declaration will make it easier for U.S. medical facilities to handle a surge in flu patients by allowing the waiver of some requirements of Medicare, Medicaid and other….health insurance programs as needed…the statement said the declaration was intended to prepare the country in case of “a rapid increase in illness that may overburden health care resources.”…”It was similar to disaster declarations issued before hurricanes hit coastal areas….It’s important to note that this is a proactive measure — not a response to a new development,”….The new declaration clears the way for waivers of federal requirements that, for example, could prevent hospitals from establishing off-site, alternate care facilities that could help them deal with emergency department demands…” Sometimes, even if a disease doesn’t have a high death rate the sheer numbers of those getting sick can strain resources so if there is a way of predicting this then it’s best to try and mitigate it. The experience here was that ICU’s admitted significantly more patients than normal during the winter as a result of the H1N1 flu and given the limited spaces available that needs to be taken into consideration overseas.

    I’m doubtful if any of that jumps instantly to mandatory vaccination and the USA already have some mandatory childhood vaccinations but I’ve heard it’s quite easy to get a waiver on religious grounds. In any case, according to the Wikipedia entry on states of emergency “The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.”. On top of that, it states that there are often limitations on the declaration of an emergency which make it illegal to modify the constitution and/or emergency law which would cover things like quarantine in the event of an epidemic of disease (unlawyerly opinion only). Even if vaccination was made mandatory (very doubtful considering there may not be sufficient stocks for those that actually want it) it shouldn’t be a problem in any case other than it dealing with an imminent public health problem with something known to prevent transmission by producing an protective immune response and therefore disease same as any other vaccine provided there is allowance there for waivers in some circumstances such as medical conditions that preclude vaccination. I’d like to hope that the concept of vaccination for disease isn’t that scary, even though anti-vaccine proponents would have everyone believe literally every vaccination causes harm and has no benefits and so any suggestion of mass (let alone individual) vaccination is to be strongly resisted.