Legal Issues

Legal liability comes into play before and during a pandemic. During the 2004–2005 flu season, the United States experienced shortages of regular flu vaccine. Some 20–40,000 people die of influenza during a “regular” flu season. The limited supplies of vaccine that were available in the United States during the 2004–2005 flu season were dispensed on either a first-come-first-serve or lottery basis. Organizations were unwilling to determine that one person was “sicker” or more in need of the vaccine than someone else. Everyone was afraid if any kind of decision making system was employed that you would be sued by the family of the other person who died because they were not given the vaccine. This was so even in settings where the CDC gave physicians guidelines based on at least age and general types of illness to treat first. If a pandemic occurs, do you treat the old or the young? Who would you vaccinate and who would you treat with oseltamivir (Tamiflu)? Unless there are clear federal guidelines, organizations will revert to a lottery or first-come-first-serve basis to avoid potential liability.

United States

Pandemic Preparedness: The Need for a Public Health Not a Law Enforcement/National Security Approach (1/14/2008)

See also: Preparing the Justice System for a Pandemic Influenza and Other Public Health Emergencies from Bureau of Justice Assistance

  • Resources

Example of state law (CT) enhancing response in a public health emergency. Many such state laws were passed c. 2003 partly in response to cases of inhalational anthrax.

  • Public Health Emergency Response Act Becomes Law
On July 9, 2003, the Governor signed the Public Health Emergency Response Authority Act, P.A. 03–236 strengthening certain powers and authorities of the Governor, the Commissioner of Public Health and local health directors during a public health emergency.

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Page last modified on January 18, 2008, at 04:51 PM by DemFromCT