Should Kids Be Required to Get the Swine Flu Vaccine?
Is getting the swine flu vaccine something that school-age children in the United States should be forced to do?
The debate is essentially the same as with many other issues over which Americans fight: Which side wins when there are competing interests between individual rights and harm to the overall society? When one person’s liberty is at stake vs. “Are you kidding me? You are ruining the common good!”
We have reached the point that health authorities have been warning about--when swine flu is running rampant and headed for your child’s school, your workplace and your neighborhood. And the rushed-into-production vaccine is now starting to be made available.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s premier health agency, 37 states are already reporting widespread flu activity, visits to doctors and hospitals are up, and the proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza are higher than normal for this time of year.
Health officials are particularly concerned about young people, because the flu seems to be affecting them more than regular influenza. Nobody knows why but the suspicion is that the H1N1 flu virus affecting us today is similar to one that was circulated before 1957, and many older adults may have lingering immunity. Few cases and fewer deaths have been reported in adults older than 64.
And it is moving fast. At Washington State University, for example, it took only two weeks for the number of cases to go from a handful to more than 2,000.
That does not mean you should panic. The flu has not mutated into the killer that some had feared it would, and those most at risk of serious complications are people with compromised immune systems or underlying health issues.
The CDC is recommending that 160 million Americans get vaccinated for the swine flu, including people from 6 months old to age 24.
If you do decide to get the swine vaccine, however, it may not be as simple as popping into your doctor at your leisure.
Many doctors and clinics still don’t have the vaccine. And remember that the swine flu vaccine and the regular flu vaccine are separate. If you choose to get the mist as opposed to the shot, doctors say you have to space them 28 days apart because the mist is a “live” virus.
Even if you don’t choose the mist, you may have no choice: Some doctors are running out of the regular flu shot and are resorting to using the mist. One mom I know said her pediatrician offered her vaccination appointments well into November, “and, by then, my kids will have been even MORE exposed at school--lots of flu there over the last 2-3 weeks.”
Various polls show that a healthy percentage of Americans aren’t sure they will get themselves and their children vaccinated, fearing that there could be health risks that are more serious than the flu itself. An Associated Press-GfK poll found that 38 percent of parents said they were unlikely to give permission for their kids to be vaccinated at school.
Federal health officials say that is nonsense, but that hasn't stopped the debate.
In some cases the considerations for mandatory vaccination are obvious.
Years ago the polio vaccine was required. That was an easy calculation, though. Polio cripples. Even if someone's individual liberty is invaded, most people would have argued that polio was enough of a harm in the balancing process to justify compulsory medical treatment.
But these considerations are not always as stark. Things got trickier a few years ago when there was a debate about whether it should be mandatory for sixth grade girls to get a new vaccine against cervical cancer. Many argued that they did not want their children taking a new vaccine, and there were arguments that the common good was not sufficiently being trampled to warrant compulsory shots.
Let’s get back to the swine flu debate.
Certain states are requiring today some health care workers to get the swine flu--and some of those workers are protesting. Vaccinating health workers seems to be a different kind of calculation than vaccinating school-age children.
Is a school district’s interest in keeping kids in school--and keeping schools open--overriding enough to justify mandatory vaccines?
Do you think school systems should made it mandatory for children to get the swine flu? Should anybody be required to get the swine flu vaccine?
| October 14, 2009; 11:30 AM ET
Tags: health, swine flu, swine flu vaccations
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