I was awakened by a Bring Out Your Dead parade led by a mad bearded monk with a flute and featuring carts hauled by chanting people dressed as donkeys. In better days, I might have tossed eggs or fruit, but I can’t afford to waste any. I confess that I considered dipping into my cornucopia of cat dung. Imagine watching someone die of H5N1 while your neighbors stage public jokes about the murdering microbes. Sounds like something gays went through in the 1980s.
The jesters are lucky they didn’t try dancing in Phoenix, where the sheriff’s department has been shooting people who won’t stay home—or who won’t leave their homes. (Frankly, the orders did sound confusing, and I’m a native English speaker.) That’s after 12 confirmed cases in the whole city.
I’m never been a big fan of government. (To me, Original Sin is that we need it.) I do accept that researching and fighting disease are reasonable state functions. I was sad to realize years ago that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention might not be much use in an old-fashioned crisis.
The CDC was the world’s premier disease-assessment institution until it refocused on terrorism after 9/11. (The same thing happened to FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency; after 9/11 it was made part of the Department of Homeland Security, which in New Orleans turned out to know or care little about helping civilians after a natural disaster.) The CDC’s budget was reduced. Shrinking slices went to ‘disease control.’
Soon after the anthrax mailings that followed 9/11, the CDC managed to convince Florida to embrace its Model State Emergency Health Powers Act, which entitles bureaucrats to order the examination, medication, isolation, and vaccination of private citizens—even if they aren’t ill. The law exempts aggressive officials and medical personnel from being sued if they, for instance, kill you. Other states chose to ignore the proposal. (New York’s legislature considered MSEHPA a few times, then lapsed back to sleep.) Now legislatures are taking up statutes like it with ghastly enthusiasm.
Fight Flu, Not People
I do not—and will never—endorse mandatory vaccination for anyone.
Be warned, in fact, that great drama will surround efforts to devise H5N1 vaccines. The research and development always takes longer than experts predict. The government will promise too much, too fast. The vaccine will be late. Any shot addressing such an unfamiliar flu strain might contain unpopular side effects.
Antivaxers around the world are already organizing to denounce the shortcuts governments and corporations are preparing to embrace in the rush to cook up vaccines. That fuss over swine flu immunity was nothing compared to what’s coming.
Finally, flu shots are less effective than the public thinks.
Next: a scary lecture on why no one should be getting pregnant.