Fears of the spread of pandemic influenza in the UK continue to grow. Three apparently previously healthy patients have died here. There are now plans for widespread immunisation later in the year – though initially this is likely to be restricted to those at highest risk, and those in 'vital' professions.
Who should be vaccinated? This is a question of distributive justice.
A public health expert has warned yesterday against the idea of swine-flu parties, arguing that it may undermine the fight against the emerging pandemic. But others, including James Delingpole in the Telegraph have embraced the idea, hoping that mild influenza now will protect against more serious illness later. Exposure parties might be thought of as a form of vigilante vaccination against influenza.
In the last few days the influenza pandemic has led to over 800 deaths, with another 240,000 expected in coming months. There has been rioting over the government response to the pandemic leading to 8 protesters and 7 police being injured.
Hang on. Are we talking about the same pandemic?
The headlines in the last week have been dramatic. California has declared a state of emergency. The World Health Organisation has raised its pandemic alert status to level 5 – its second highest level. The UK government is about to post leaflets to every household providing information on how to reduce spread of an outbreak of H1N1 influenza (swine flu).
It is not clear whether the threatened pandemic will eventuate. But the response to a possible or to a real pandemic raises a number of ethical questions. This blog will hopefully address some of those questions in the coming days. But here is one to start with. How ought the government to respond to the threat of pandemic influenza?