Allowing teenagers to choose HPV vaccines – constitutional

It is morally painful when anti-vaccine sentiment goes so far as to put children at risk of disability, suffering and death. But, that is exactly what a letter written by North Carolina attorney and vaccine critic Alan G. Phillips would do. The problem is that in laying out his case against the enactment of legislation that would protect the health and well being of adolescents in New York State he fails to make one.

The New York assembly is considering A497, a bill that would allow adolescents to receive treatment – including allowing teenagers to choose HPV vaccines for prevention of those infections – against a sexually transmitted disease without their parents’ or guardians’ knowledge or consent. The goal is clearly a laudable one; to insure teenagers don’t leave themselves at risk of sexually transmitted diseases or neglect treating one because they are worried about their parents’ reaction.

Or, sadly, in some instances, because they fear seeking permission to get vaccinated from a parent or family member who may be sexually abusing them. By allowing adolescents to consent to vaccines or other treatment on their own, the bill minimizes the potential for serious harm such as liver cancer (from Hepatitis B), anal cancers or cervical cancer (from HPV infections).

Several other states have passed such laws. They are consistent with long-established laws granting greater decision-making authority to minors with regard to reproductive health and contraception. Phillips disagrees. He sent a letter to NY State legislators arguing that the bill violates federal and state laws and should not be enacted. Not so. Here is why. Contrary to his claims: Continue reading “Allowing teenagers to choose HPV vaccines – constitutional”

Health Care Workers, Flu Vaccines, and Work Place Discrimination

In a previous post, I described a New Jersey Court of Appeals case in which Ms. Valent was denied unemployment benefits because she refused flu vaccines without claiming the religious exemption. I explained that the hospital was not constitutionally required to provide a religious exemption, and that doing so was a losing proposition from a hospital’s point of view.

In the comments following that post, it was correctly pointed out to me that there is another claim I should have addressed: a claim that the hospital was required to provide a religious exemption under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This did not come up in the case itself: the court reinstated the nurse’s unemployment benefits on constitutional grounds, though problematic constitutional grounds. But since I argue that hospitals should not offer a religious exemption, I need to address whether the hospital is required, under Title VII, to offer an accommodation.  Continue reading “Health Care Workers, Flu Vaccines, and Work Place Discrimination”

No faith – healthcare workers, vaccines and religion

June Valent started working for Hackettstown Community Hospital, New Jersey, in 2009. In 2010, the hospital adopted a policy requiring workers to be vaccinated against influenza, unless “there [was] a documented medical or religious exemption. For those with an exemption, a declination form must be signed and accompanied with an appropriate note each year.” An employee claiming a religious exemption just has to sign a form and bring a note from a religious leader. Employees using an exemption were required to wear a mask.

To her credit, Ms. Valent was unwilling to pretend her reasons for refusing the vaccine were religious. Less to her credit, she refused to be vaccinated, even though she had no medical reason, and vaccinating would reduce her chances of contracting influenza and transmitting it to her vulnerable patients. She did agree to wear a facemask, as any vaccine exempt worker would.

The hospital fired Ms. Valent for violating the policy. The issue under consideration was whether she was entitled to unemployment benefits. Under New Jersey law, an employer may deny unemployment benefits if the employee engaged in misconduct, which includes violating a reasonable rule of the employer. After somewhat complex proceedings, the Appeal Tribunal of the Board Of Review of the Department Of Labor decided to deny her the benefits because the employer’s requirements were “not unreasonable.” Continue reading “No faith – healthcare workers, vaccines and religion”

Recouping costs of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks

We all know that outbreaks of preventable diseases cause (unnecessary) suffering and potentially devastating harms. This blog has a whole series dedicated to showing how vaccines save lives (examples here, here, here, here, and here).

But besides those harms, outbreaks also have direct monetary costs. They cost individuals money, when those people have to miss work or pay for medications, co-pays or costs associated with caring for a sick child or other family member harmed by a disease. Outbreaks also impose costs on health insurers covering the (often very high) costs of treating a preventable disease; and they impose costs on the public purse. Public health authorities have  to contain the outbreak. If people depend on a public health insurance program, their health costs are also covered by the public. Public funding is limited. When agencies have to spend money on containing outbreaks, they are not using the money in other ways. As a result, other services and needs suffer.

Our paper argues that those whose decision not to vaccinate caused an outbreak should pay for the costs to public agencies of the outbreak. It then suggests options for achieving that goal. The blog post proceeds in three parts that shortly summarize the paper’s arguments: highlighting the costs of outbreaks, explaining the justifications for imposing costs of those who do not vaccinate, and mentioning how costs can be recovered. Continue reading “Recouping costs of vaccine preventable disease outbreaks”

Parents, children, loss of custody and immunization

This article uses the very recent decision of the Supreme Court of Oregon in Department of Human Services v. S.M. (pdf) to discuss a specific question: if parents lose custody of their children, can they still refuse immunizations? The Oregon Supreme Court joins others in saying that the answer is no. As discussed, this is the right result.

Loss of custody and immunization is a key issue of parental rights on several levels. Let’s discuss the case in Oregon in detail

Continue reading “Parents, children, loss of custody and immunization”

Time to regulate the antivaccine liars out of existence, Part 1

Miracle-cureThis week, Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of  the Law in San Francisco, guest wrote an article on this blog (and I’m grateful when she does) regarding the possibility of using the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), whose principal mission is the promotion of consumer protection, to regulate or block antivaccine misinformation.

The process to request that the FTC investigate these individuals is relatively easy. And it’s time to change the discussion about vaccines, and make certain that those individuals who make money from lying about vaccines are blocked from doing so.

Pressure from pro-science/pro-vaccine on the Australian state of New South Wales led to an order that Meryl Dorey’s “Australian Vaccination Network (AVN)” must change its name since it “is likely to mislead the public in relation to the nature, objects or functions of AVN.” The core of the argument was that AVN was and continues to be strictly antivaccination, and it’s name seemed to imply it was something else. Continue reading “Time to regulate the antivaccine liars out of existence, Part 1”

Can FTC regulate anti-vaccine misrepresentations?

In a previous post, I discussed the proposal by Ms. Amanda Naprawa (Naprawa, 2013) to sue the tort of misrepresentation that causes physical harm against those spreading anti-vaccine misinformation, and under which conditions can that be done.

This article examines another tactic suggested by Ms. Naprawa, regulation by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). This tactic is at once more limited and more powerful than the tort of misrepresentation. It is more limited, since the FTC’s power of regulating false speech is limited to commercial speech, and the decision to use it depends on the FTC, with individuals’ power to promote such action extremely limited. It is more powerful since individuals do not have to bear the costs of bringing a suit and proving the falsity, since it can be done before harms actually happen, and since it is a traditional power of the FTC that has been used in similar context in the past.

Maybe the FTC could regulate anti-vaccine misrepresentations in certain areas.

Continue reading “Can FTC regulate anti-vaccine misrepresentations?”

Anti-vaccine claims, misrepresentation and free speech

Imagine the following scenarios:

  1. A mother comments on an anti-vaccine Facebook page belonging to a Doctor known for her opposition to vaccines, saying that she is about to travel to a third world country for which the CDC recommends certain vaccines. She asks what vaccines, if any, she should get for her unvaccinated eight-months old. The doctor responds with “none; these countries are perfectly safe, there’s no higher risk there”.
  2. Another mother comments on the same Facebook page saying that a dog bit her daughter. She asks whether she should, in this case, get the rabies vaccine or tetanus vaccines. The doctor recommends against it, deviating from the standard of care.
  3. An anti-vaccine organization publishes an article describing measles as a “mild childhood disease,” potentially beneficial to the immune system and repeating the debunked claim that the MMR vaccine causes autism. It encourages readers not to vaccinate.
  4. An anti-vaccine doctor records a video recommending that citizens in a country that had polio discovered in the sewers avoid getting the Oral Polio Vaccine, as their Ministry of Health recommends. The doctor claims that: 1) Polio is not generally dangerous, and the polio epidemics in the United States were caused by use of DDT, 2) the polio vaccine is more dangerous than polio itself, or 3) vitamin C can prevent or treat polio.
  5. These claims are demonstrably false.
  6. An anti-vaccine site has an article suggesting that tetanus is not usually dangerous and can be prevented by letting wounds bleed and cleaning them with hydrogen peroxide.

Continue reading “Anti-vaccine claims, misrepresentation and free speech”