With the clock running out on its final term, the Bloomberg administration is pushing two assertive new mandates through the city’s Board of Health.
The city Department of Health wants to require all children under age 5 in city-licensed day care programs receive annual flu vaccinations. And in a move with heightened relevance following the Washington Navy Yard massacre, the city is calling on hospitals to report personal details on patients admitted for psychosis to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Both items are on the agenda for the next Board of Health meeting, on October 22.
The proposed rules follow the administration’s so-far thwarted effort to impose a ban on supersize sodas and other sugary drinks, which judges have ruled overreached the board’s powers. The members of the board are appointed by the mayor.
Under the new proposals, hospitals in the city would have to promptly report the identities of patients between the ages of 18 and 30 admitted for psychotic incidents. The city health agency intends to follow up with the patients to ensure they receive further treatment. Currently, fewer than half actually get such care.
“Without follow-up treatment, more than one quarter of these individuals will be expected to relapse and to be rehospitalized within one year,” the Department of Health explains in its plan. “Early, high-quality treatment can reduce the risk of relapse and increase chances for long-term remission.”
The department promises that the personal information collected – to include the patient’s name, age, gender, address, telephone number, insurance type and diagnosis – would be destroyed within 30 days. The remaining data would be made available for epidemiological studies.
A Department of Health spokesperson was not available for comment.
The collection of personal data on people with high risk of paranoia raises a red flag for Mark Heyrman, who teaches mental health law at the University of Chicago Law School.
“The more we say we will be collecting data on people who have mental illnesses, the more likely it is that mentally ill people will think that the information might eventually be used against them in some way,” said Heyrman. “The question is whether there will be enough positive effects to outweigh the fact that, as our friend Edward Snowden has shown us, our government is not particularly good at protecting its own privacy efforts.”
The flu vaccination would join an existing list of required doses — which include diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, hepatitis B and haemophilus — but would be the only one that must be administered annually. The health department cites studies finding that young children have the highest rate of infections, and asserts that vaccinating them protects the entire city.
Vaccination requirements have faced objections before from a small but vocal contingent of parents. Patricia Finn, a lawyer who has sued the city for vaccination exemptions, said that the review process for obtaining waivers from the city and state is getting harder, particularly since the 2009 H1N1 scare.
Finn is currently representing a Staten Island family in federal court in an attempt to receive an exemption for their daughter.
“Children get 88 doses of diseases by the age of 5 in New York City,” said Finn. As for the proposed new flu vaccine requirement, she said that as she learned of it, “I almost fell out of my chair.”
The New York City law provides a religious exemption but does not provide an opt-out for families opposed to vaccinations for other reasons.
The department notes that both New Jersey and Connecticut have passed laws requiring children under 5 to be vaccinated annually if they attend child care or preschool programs.
If the rule is approved by the Board of Health, schools and child care centers must maintain records showing that all enrolled children have received that year’s flu shot or they will be subjected to fines.