There is a measles epidemic in New York City. So far, it has sickened some 329 people, with no end in sight. This isn’t to be confused with the ongoing epidemic of measles in eastern Washington State.
New York City has declared a public health emergency. The City has issued an emergency health order. ll unvaccinated people in affected zip codes must receive the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, prove immunity, or have a valid medical exemption. Violators could face a fine of $1,000.
But this is America. Five unnamed mothers in New York City filed a lawsuit Monday, April 15, seeking to block the mandatory vaccination order. The five plaintiffs claim that the outbreak does not constitute a dangerous epidemic and that the city’s orders are “arbitrary and capricious.” They also claim that the MMR vaccine has significant safety concerns and that the order violates their religious freedom.
As stupid lawsuits go, this one is a candidate for a prize. This is just the latest example is just of anti-vaccine parents challenging the legality of public health officials’ efforts to curb measles cases. But WC will examine the premises for the claims to support WC’s thesis of stupid lawyers.
It is a dangerous outbreak. This year, the Centers for Disease Prevention reports a whopping 555 cases of measles. That’s in comparison to 667 cases in 2014, the current record number for measles cases in the United States in the 21st Century. A quarter of the way through the year, 2019 is on a pace to shatter that record before the end of May.
Measles is dangerous. There can be very serious complications, including pneumonia and blindness in as many at 2% of cases, and the death rate is 0.1 – 0.2% (1-2 death per 1,000 cases). There were some 73,000 deaths worldwide as recently as 2014. In very young children and the immuno-compromised, the death rate is higher. Among malnourished children, the death rate jumps to 10%. According to the CDC,
- Up to 1 in 20 children with measles will get pneumonia
- About 1 in 1,000 children with measles will get encephalitis — an acute inflammation of the brain that can cause permanent nerve and/or brain damage
- 1 or 2 in 1,000 children who get measles will die from the disease.
WC looks forward to seeing what quack epidemiologist the plaintiffs can find to argue with 50 years of measles data.
Do the math. Serious complications from the MMR vaccine are less than 1 in 1,000,000. The risk of death is 1 – 2 in 1,000. That’s three orders of magnitude greater risk with not vaccinating.
The plaintiffs claim that the vaccine is unsafe. There isn’t a shred of scientific evidence to suggest any childhood vaccine is somehow more dangerous than the disease for which the vaccination is given.
The plaintiffs claim a link to autism. There are numerous studies, involving ten of thousands of children, that demonstrate no causal link between autism spectrum disorder and any vaccination. The quack who claimed there was has been shown to have manipulated the data.
The plaintiffs claim the New York order is arbitrary and capricious. That’s a legal standard. It means that an action was taken without logical basis or without a foundation in proven facts. The New York order mandating vaccination is based on long-proven, sound science. It’s the claims of the plaintiffs that are arbitrary and capricious.
Finally, the plaintiffs claim the New York order violates their religious freedoms. But no First Amendment right, whether it is freedom of religion, freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, is without limit. Let’s suppose a religion mandated child sacrifice, in the best Abrahamic tradition. Would that religion be free to murder children under the mantle of freedom of religion? Of course not. And yet those who claim the mantle of religion are permitted in many states to assume their dogma is better than medicine. That’s the very definition of “arbitrary and capricious.”
The five plaintiffs will lose their lawsuit. Protecting the public is more important than their silly beliefs. And the lawyers who filed claims on their behalf ought to be reviewed for violations of the Code of Professional Responsibility and Civil Rule 11, which prohibits frivolous lawsuits.