To federal officials, it’s a way to provide greater transparency and efficiency in the way the United States tries to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.
To the folks at one nonprofit health organization, it’s a “power grab” by the federal government that could eventually prohibit people who aren’t vaccinated from getting on airplanes, trains, or ships.
The object of this attention is an 88-page proposal by officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
The proposal would amend the current rules for quarantine for control of communicable diseases for people traveling in the United States as well as people entering the country.
The proposed rule changes were posted on Aug. 15. Federal officials are taking public comment until this Friday.
“Communicable diseases are just a flight away. To protect the U.S. population, Congress passed laws giving CDC the authority to implement regulations that prevent communicable diseases from entering the United States and then spreading between the states,” the CDC website states.
Normally, these kind of bureaucratic language alterations don’t garner a lot of attention.
However, officials at the Citizens’ Council for Health Freedom (CCHF) have sounded the alarm bells.
They have contacted their members with an action alert, asking them to write comments on the proposed changes.
“It’s a power grab,” Twila Brase, the president and co-founder of CCHF, told Healthline. “We don’t know where this empowerment will lead.”
What the proposal entails
The current infectious disease rules were instituted in 1944 under the Public Health Service Act.
Its goal is “preventing the introduction, transmission, and spread of communicable diseases.”
The authority for enforcing these rules was transferred to the CDC in 1967.
On the CDC website, federal officials say the changes will “make into law several practices currently in place to protect the public health.”
The changes would update the requirements for cruise ships and airlines to report potentially sick or exposed travelers.
It also formalizes the appeals process for people who are placed under quarantine or in isolation.
“These updates will better prepare CDC public health officials to respond quickly, efficiently, and effectively to outbreaks and other public health threats associated with travel,” the CDC website states. “These updates are being proposed in response to lessons learned during the largest recorded epidemic of Ebola in history in West Africa, the recent outbreaks of MERS in South Korea and throughout the Arabian Peninsula, and repeated outbreaks and responses to measles and infectious tuberculosis in the United States. The proposed updates will also assist CDC in responding to the ongoing threat of other new or re-emerging communicable diseases.”
Federal officials point out the rules do not force a person to be vaccinated and prohibit any medical treatment without the informed consent of the person.
Objections to the rules
Brase said her organization has several concerns.
The first is where this authority will eventually lead.
She said the new rules would require airline companies and cruise ship operators to report information on their passengers to the federal government.
Brase said it’s possible that if a person with an infectious disease was confirmed on a plane flight that the federal government would want information on all the people who had been sitting near that passenger.
“We’re concerned we might be creating a surveillance system,” she said.
Brase added there’s concern that measles is mentioned 187 times in the new proposed rules. The Zika virus, she said, isn’t mentioned even once. CDC officials noted that measles is a highly contagious disease while Zika is primarily transmitted through mosquito bites.
Nonetheless, Brase said there are concerns the measles rules could eventually lead to unvaccinated people being prohibited on planes or ships.
“There seems to be an emphasis on measles,” Brase said. “We’re worried it could add some coercion to getting people to be vaccinated against measles.”
However, federal officials say it’s all about safety and public health.
“These updates will reflect the most current evidence-based practices and procedures already in use by CDC Quarantine Stations,” the CDC website states. “They will also provide the public with clear and transparent information about how CDC conducts public health risk assessments and manages sick travelers at U.S. ports of entry and those traveling between states.”