Case Study # 6 – Response To Bio-Terrorism
The possibility of terrorists using biological weapons on the citizens of the United States has been a major topic in the press for the last several years. Smallpox has been speculated to be the perfect biological terror agent because of the potency of the virus, and because of the lack of herd immunity present in the US population. The following case presents a possible way in which the virus could be released in the population and a possible response. The questions following the case involve the ethics surrounding the government’s response.
- Smallpox initially has flu-like symptoms, which are recognizable 7-19 days after exposure. After 2-4 days of flu-like symptoms, the fever begins to decrease, and pox will form.
- An infected person is contagious one day before the characteristic pox appear.
- Approximately 30-50% of unvaccinated people exposed to smallpox will contract the disease.
- The mortality rate for smallpox was approximately 20-40%.
- The vaccine that was used was approximately 90% effective.
- It is possible that if terrorists were to use the smallpox virus, that they would genetically modify it. If this were the case, then the vaccine may not prevent all of the disease symptoms for those vaccinated.
Facts gathered from: http://www.vbs.admin.ch/ls/e/current/fact_sheet/pocken/
Date: June 22, 2005. A 27-year-old man is brought into a New York City emergency room with a 101-degree fever, and what he believes is chickenpox (Varicella). After a brief examination, the 35-year-old physician is puzzled because the pox do not appear to be typical of the varicella-zoster virus. Worried, he calls in another physician for her opinion. She takes one look at the patient, determines he has small pox, and immediately orders him to be quarantined. She notifies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and asks them what should be done.
While doing background on the patient, he tells the physicians that he is a flight attendant and that he has flown to Orlando, FL, Los Angeles, CA, Chicago, IL, and Seattle, WA in the past few weeks while working. Though he is given excellent treatment, and had been in perfect health a few days earlier, the patient dies 7 hours after admittance to the hospital.
The CDC decides that mandatory small pox vaccines will be administered to all workers in the NYC hospital, and to all patients who were in the ER. His co-workers are all given mandatory vaccines as well, as are all people living in his apartment complex. They also ship stored quantities of the vaccine to all of the cities where the man had flown to for work. The vaccines are offered to citizens of these cities. Finally, all people, along with their families who had been on the man’s flights in the weeks preceding the appearance of the disease are forced to receive the vaccine.
Note: The flight attendant was most likely given small pox by a bio terrorist who flew on his plane sometime during the past week/week and a half. The terrorist would have been contagious but would not have shown symptoms. Virtually every person the man came into contact with would have gotten the virus.
- Is it ethical for the CDC to force people to get the vaccine?
- An LA woman on the flight is religiously opposed to vaccines. Under California law she can normally refuse vaccines on religious or personal grounds. However, the government says she must receive the vaccine or face mandatory quarantine. What do you think of this?
- Do you think that for more common diseases, for example measles, that it is ethical for the state to allow people to refuse vaccines (even for religious grounds)? What if their refusal can harm others who cannot have the vaccine, such as people who are immunocompromised like AIDS patients?
- Is it ethical for someone to refuse the vaccine?
- You had driven down to Los Angeles 5 days ago to visit a friend for the weekend. While in town, you visited many tourist attractions. You are worried and you try to get the vaccine, but are denied it because of limited resources. What do you think of this?
- Citizens begin calling for the mandatory quarantining of people directly exposed to the victim, i.e those living in his apartment complex, those working in the ER, those who flew on the plane in the prior week. What do you think of this?
- The smallpox vaccine, like many other vaccines (example: oral polio vaccine) can actually transmit the virus to others. In light of this, is it ethical for people to get the vaccine? (Note: they are vaccinating those who may not want to be vaccinated)
- Today, should health care workers be allowed/forced to get the smallpox vaccine? What about non-health care worker citizens?