Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Jersey's Flu Vaccination Requirement

This week, a New Jersey court is set to hear challenges to a newly implemented policy requiring children between the ages of six (6) months and five (5) to obtain a flu vaccination before being allowed to return to their licensed pre-school and child care centers. Citing health concerns, New Jersey is the first state to institute such a requirement.

As classrooms tend to be ideal places for children to spread illness, which often times is later passed on to family members at home, requiring this vaccine is seen as a measure to ensure the “overall public health”. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “[e]ach year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 people die from the flu”; approximately 10% of those affected by the flu are children, and last year there were reports of 86 child deaths due to “flu-related complications”. Already in New Jersey, “[t]here have been about five cases of pediatric flu-related illnesses that required hospitalization this season.” Additionally, the CDC had previously recommended that all children between the ages of six (6) months and eighteen (18) years be immunized.

On the other side of the argument, parents are claiming that it should be their decision as to whether their child is immunized or not. Also, many parents claim they are hesitant to have their child(ren) vaccinated due to fears of health risks. In order to allow the parents a choice in this matter, the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice is attempting to obtain exemptions for any conscientious objectors.

The difficult issue in this scenario is the intrusion by the government into the lives of private citizens, but for purposes that will purportedly help the general public as much as the individual being intruded upon. Adding to the difficulty is that this requirement is only being levied upon those attending government approved facilities, which are arguably not required to be attended.

Parents in this case seem to have some options, albeit not very attractive options, such as: not use these facilities and keep their children at home, which is not very likely especially if both parents, or a single parent, are/is employed; find non-licensed daycares/preschools for their children, which raises obvious issues of its own; hire in-home care, which has several issues including cost; or, have their child vaccinated, which is problematic for many. Balancing the interests is not easy from a non-legal point of view, but it would seem that the government’s health interests will override those of the individuals. As evidenced by various challenges to smoking bans implemented by states in the past, courts have seemed to side with the overall health interests cited by the state over those of a select class. It would seem that this trend will continue in this case as well.

For the New York Times article, click here.

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