Regulating in the Era of Fake News: Anti-vaccine Activists Respond to the CDC Quarantine Rule

Dorit Rubinstein Reiss

Abstract


The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has authority to act to prevent spread of communicable diseases, including, in some cases, imposing quarantine. On August 15, 2016, the CDC proposed a rule to update its quarantine regulations. For the most part, the proposed regulations modernize existing quarantine rules, add due process protections, and extend the CDC's authority in screening travelers. The proposed regulations also allow the CDC to issue travel restrictions or permits for quarantined individuals. They update the language and reflect existing practices better than the current regulations. The regulations were interpreted by writers publishing to an anti-vaccine audience as providing the CDC new and extensive powers to detain people infected with any communicable disease so designated, to force vaccinate, and to impose restrictions on whole towns. Articles decried the CDC's power grab, and argued that the proposed rule violates constitutional rights. Anti-vaccine organizations have called on members and readers to mobilize against the proposed rule and submit comments. This paper compares the description of the proposed rule by anti-vaccine organizations to the actual content of the rule. It examines the effect of the call to mobilization on the comments submitted by doing a content analysis of the comments. Drawing on the literature on participation in rulemaking and symbolic politics, it examines the normative and policy implications of mobilization that draws on misperception of the proposed rule but may still raise issues relevant to the policy behind it and its implementation, explains the problems and suggests solutions.

The United States' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has authority to act to prevent spread of communicable diseases, including, in some cases, imposing quarantine. On August 15, 2016, the CDC proposed a rule to update its quarantine regulations. For the most part, the proposed regulations modernize existing quarantine rules, add due process protections, and extend the CDC's authority in screening travelers. The proposed regulations also allow the CDC to issue travel restrictions or permits for quarantined individuals. They update the language and reflect existing practices better than the current regulations. The regulations were interpreted by writers publishing to an anti-vaccine audience as providing the CDC new and extensive powers to detain people infected with any communicable disease so designated, to force vaccinate, and to impose restrictions on whole towns. Articles decried the CDC's power grab, and argued that the proposed rule violates constitutional rights. Anti-vaccine organizations have called on members and readers to mobilize against the proposed rule and submit comments. This paper compares the description of the proposed rule by anti-vaccine organizations to the actual content of the rule. It examines the effect of the call to mobilization on the comments submitted by doing a content analysis of the comments. Drawing on the literature on participation in rulemaking and symbolic politics, it examines the normative and policy implications of mobilization that draws on misperception of the proposed rule but may still raise issues relevant to the policy behind it and its implementation, explains the problems and suggests solutions.


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/lawreview.2018.572

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