Mandatory Flu Shots in Massachusetts, Well Not Exactly

Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy had a post the other day about the idea of mandatory flu vaccinations in Massachusetts. Since I live in MA I was puzzled that I hadn’t heard about this before so I read the linked article. The first thing I noticed was that this wasn’t about normal policies, it’s about amendments to the laws regarding actions during a state of emergency. I went to comment about it and saw that a bunch of people had already set the record straight in the comments.

Basically if there is a pandemic flu outbreak and lots of MA citizens are getting sick and dying then the Governor could declare a state of emergency and the laws go in to effect. At that point citizens will have to either get the flu shot or stay home so that they can’t infect and potentially kill others. The laws have been around since the 1950’s and what the legislature is doing is updating them for modern circumstances.

Then I saw a comment from Joshua saying he had posted about this at Boston, it’s a great read that I highly recommend for those concerned about this topic. An important point from Joshua’s post is that in addition to the updating it clarifies the policies and in the process actually lessens the possibility of abuse of these powers versus the existing statutes.

Searching around for more information I stumbled upon this post at with this scary information.

Also in the bill is a line about “involuntary transportation” to a healthcare facility.

Checking the bloggers source link took me to an article at WorldNetDaily with a similar scary part.

In addition, citizens may be subject to “involuntary transportation.”

Knowing how often WingNutDaily misleads by quote mining and since both items used scare quotes I took a look to see what the bill really says. Here’s the section that talks about involuntary transportation in the proposed amendment (emphasis mine):

SECTION 12.  Section 94A of said chapter 111, as so appearing, is hereby amended by striking out subsection (d) and inserting in place thereof the following subsection:-

(d) Law enforcement authorities, upon order of the commissioner or his agent or at the request of a local public health authority pursuant to such order, shall assist emergency medical technicians or other appropriate medical personnel in the involuntary transportation of such person to the tuberculosis treatment center. No law enforcement authority or medical personnel shall be held criminally or civilly liable as a result of an act or omission carried out in good faith in reliance on said order.

That seemed odd, why would you take flu carriers to a tuberculosis treatment center. The answer is easy, it has absolutely nothing to do with flu pandemics. Section 94A of chapter 111 is about what to do with citizens with active tuberculosis who are unwilling to accept proper medical treatment and are a serious danger to the public health. Here’s the original section 94A subsection d:

(d) The commissioner or his agent may call on the police department of the city or town whose board of health certified such person, or the police department of the place where such person is present, to provide the transportation to the tuberculosis treatment center.

The way the old law is worded the police could be required to transport everyone even those who are willing to comply and there was no requirement for medical personnel used in the transportation. The revised version makes it clear that the police will only be involved when the person refuses to comply and it requires EMTs be involved. While the original version would have been appropriate back in the 50’s and 60’s when every town didn’t have EMTs with ambulances, in the 21st century the new version is safer and removes an unneeded burden on the police. The only other thing it changes is it gives explicit protection to EMTs and police from criminal and civil penalties from performing the action. This also seems very reasonable to me as cops and EMTs should not be hauled into court for following orders from legal authorities. If the citizen infected with active tuberculosis wants to sue someone it should be the state/local health authorities not the guys and gals following their orders.

As is so often the case the wing nuts at WorldNetDaily have quote mined the information to give thoroughly misleading information to their readers. The wing nut at Examiner probably didn’t do any original quote mining instead he just blindly parrots what WingNutDaily says to misinform his readers as well. Of course I’m being too polite to the wing nuts what they are doing is intentionally lying to motivate their readers who they know will never check anything they say for accuracy.

State Senator Richard Moore has more on this topic in a post at WBUR’s web site.