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If a vaccine has a definite proven effect in protecting someone from getting a deadly disease, is blocking them from accessing the vaccine illegal? What laws would be broken?

I'm reading several news stories at the moment which are talking about a variety of situations which would potentially result in someone not getting a Coronavirus vaccine. These include spreading information against the vaccine and encouraging people not to have it, "jumping the queue" to get a vaccine ahead of someone who was entitled to it and destroying the vaccine so it cannot be used.

I do not want to get into debates on the effectiveness of the vaccine or the harm or reality of Coronavirus, so let's use a hypothetical PurpleVaccine that will prevent 50 of 100 people from dying from PurplePlague, where PurplePlague is endemic in the community and there is 100% chance that a person will catch it within the next month. PurpleVaccine has no known side-effects.

  1. Alice tells Bob that PurpleVaccine will kill 90 of 100 people and scares him so he does not get PurpleVaccine.
  2. David (Charlotte's father) forbids Charlotte from getting PurpleVaccine and locks her in her room.
  3. Elaine jumps the queue and gets vaccinated in Fred's place. Fred can not now be vaccinated for another month
  4. Harry destroys the supply of PurpleVaccine so Gina cannot be vaccinated

If Bob, Charlotte, Fred and Gina all die from PurplePlague, would anyone be liable for manslaughter or other charges?

I'm initially thinking about US jurisdiction, but viewpoints from other jurisdictions would be of interest.

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    Alice is probably safe, spreading misinformation (other than defamation) is usually legal. Harry has definitely committed a crime (destruction of property at a minimum, plus whatever else the prosecutor can think of).
    – Ryan M
    Jan 26 at 20:38
  • The core of the question is the difference between a) person A(David, Elaine, Harry) is actively preventing person B(Charlotte, Fred, Gina) from exercising their free will and b) person A(Alice) giving bad advice to person B(Bob) who as a person of sound mind, is responsible for the final decision that they make. Case b) would have no legal repercussions. Case a) could have legal repercussions: #2 guardian rights over a minor ; #3 Personation of another to the derivement of that person ; #4 multiple charges possible Jan 26 at 21:38
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In the US, you can argue / rant against vaccines, business practices, religions etc: the First Amendment protects all viewpoints. A vaccine cannot sue a person for making untrue damaging statements (a doctor administering a vaccine could sue, so you have to be careful about how you state your lies).

A parent, friend of stranger can forbid a person from getting a vaccine, and that person can ignore the forbidding. Locking a person in their room, OTOH, is false imprisonment. If the person is a minor child of the person that is doing this stuff, they have parental authority until the court says otherwise. Minors cannot generally give consent for medical procedures, their parents do: then it would take a court struggle to order the vaccine to be given against parental wishes. A parent cannot lock their child in a room and throw away the key, but they can confine the child for disciplinary reasons.

Fred is out of luck w.r.t. the vaccine queue. There are physical queuess and virtual queues. Neither Elaine nor Fred know anything about the other person when they sign up with a vaccine provider: the "ordering discrepancy" is on the vaccinating agency, and most likely is either the consequence of a valid policy consideration or a simple error, so Fred cannot sue the pharmacist. Cutting in front of a person in a line is rude but not illegal: the pharmacist can instruct the line-cutter to go to the end of the line. He could also permit a line-cutter to go ahead of someone already in line: there is no legal "first-come first-served" property right to a vaccination (unless the local government creates such a right).

Harry who breaks in and destroys somebody's property can be arrested, and sent to prison for property destruction and various other crimes related to breaking into a pharmacy (these are state-law specific).

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  • DC is one of the places where a minor (over the age of 11) can give consent for a vaccine.
    – Ron Beyer
    Jan 26 at 20:51
  • If Elaine "jumps the queue" by giving false information, say about her age or her medical condition, that might be an offense, but not manslaughter or murder. She did not intend that anyone in particular die. Jan 26 at 21:34
  • Good but for #1: there is Trade Libel
    – Trish
    Jan 27 at 11:41
  • @Trish My understanding is that recent decisions have so applied the First Amendment that Trade Libel is quite hard to establish Jan 27 at 21:01
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Few words in front: Homicide. What is homicide for this analysis?

the killing of a human being due to the act or omission of another. Included among homicides are murder and manslaughter, [...]

To he actual questions!

Alice tells Bob that PurpleVaccine will kill 90 of 100 people and scares him so he does not get PurpleVaccine.

This could only give rise to the company making PV suing Alice for defamation of its product. However, the bar is high, and they have to prove that Alice knew about the real truth that PV was safe, that the company had a loss and that loss was intended by Alice. Yet there is no way to get Alice for any homicide.

David (Charlotte's father) forbids Charlotte from getting PurpleVaccine and locks her in her room.

This depends on Charlotte's age: If Charlotte is an adult, it is false imprisonment and he has no right to deny her the PV.

If Charlotte is a minor, it might be child endangerment. Assuming there is no mother that could say yes, his "no" would make it impossible to vaccinate Charlotte legally outside of mandatory vaccination (see below). Not vaccinating might be a factor or evidence when there's a child endangerment or neglect case, but it does not become homicide if Charlotte dies.

If there is a law that demands everybody to be vaccinated, he'd also break that constitutional (because of Jacobsen v Massachusatts) law, and could be punished under such a mandatory vaccination standard. As the court in Jacobsen found 115 years ago, the care for the health of the general population is a compelling factor...

Or to quote the Mister S., officer abroad the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 (No bloody A - B - C - or D!): "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few."

Elaine jumps the queue and gets vaccinated in Fred's place. Fred can not now be vaccinated for another month

I don't see a chargeable crime here unless Elaine did pose to be Fred or used wrong information. In the first case we might have the tort of impersonation and possibly conversion for Fred to try and get something, in the other case we add that the state could also get her for fraud. But not homicide.

Harry destroys the supply of PurpleVaccine so Gina cannot be vaccinated

Breaking and entering, destruction of property, possibly it might also add reckless or wilful endangerment of every person in town, but that depends on how the local law is written. A homicide charge could be pressed, but might be harder to prove than the other, underlying facts. The initial allegation in the inditement to the Grand Jury most likely would be the B&E as well as vandalism.

If the homicide statutes were written in a way that makes reckless and depraved indifference to the death of others a proveable homicide charge, then I see it being brought and possibly even convicted. In some jurisdictions, this might take the shape of a felony murder charge. However, not all jurisdictions have it written in such a way.

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  • Regarding your final paragraph, isn't manslaughter "an act of recklessness that shows indifference to the lives and safety of others"? (From Wikipedia page on Homicide).. Also, if destroying the vaccine is a crime, are the deaths covered as part of the Felony Murder Rule for deaths resulting from a criminal act?
    – Dragonel
    Jan 27 at 17:02
  • It could be, but the DA has to show it, and not all statutes are written in such a way it works.
    – Trish
    Jan 27 at 17:48
  • My understanding is that recent decisions have so applied the First Amendment that this is quite hard to establish Jan 27 at 21:00
  • @DavidSiegel and yes, the bar is REALLY high. Look up what a Bardex it.. and then listen to the talk of Jason Scott, owner and archivist of textfile.com, on DEFCON 17 about internet maniacs, archiving BBS, and getting a C&D from a company for hosting a story that features a Bardex used outside of the medical context
    – Trish
    Jan 27 at 22:13

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