Republican Legislators Completing Bill To Protect Avian Flu Vaccine Makers
Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) on Wednesday said that lawmakers are "pretty close to an agreement" on legislation that would provide liability protection to drug and vaccine manufacturers who produce experimental vaccines against avian flu, CQ Today reports. According to CQ Today, liability protection for vaccine manufacturers, intended to "boost the flagging vaccine industry," is "one of the key elements of President Bush's flu plan" (Schuler, CQ Today, 11/16).
Republican lawmakers are working on a provision to be attached to an upcoming must-pass spending bill requiring quick action -- which means it would bypass committees and floor deliberations in both chambers -- that would prevent suits against vaccine manufacturers but that would leave unresolved the issue of a compensation program for individuals who could be harmed by the experimental vaccines (Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, 11/17). The measure would prohibit any punitive damages and limit noneconomic damages to $250,000 (CongressDaily, 11/16).
Gregg, the Senate's "chief advocate" for liability protections, said vaccine manufacturers must be protected against possible lawsuits to provide enough incentive to manufacture the products, which generally bring in lower profits, the Washington Post reports. "You're not going to get vaccine production in the U.S. unless you have liability protection," Gregg said.
Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said, "The Republican leadership in Congress is trying to do another special favor for drug companies by slipping a provision into a massive spending bill to absolve the pharmaceutical industry of any responsibility to patients injured by dangerous drugs or vaccines. It's cynical to claim that this is what's needed to deal with avian flu."
The Association of Trial Lawyers of America said the provision would provide protection for pharmaceutical companies against drugs other than vaccines.
However, Amy Call, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) said the provision would affect only companies that manufacture vaccines that counter pandemics that have been designated as national emergencies (Birnbaum, Washington Post, 11/17).
The Journal on Thursday examined how companies with international offices are "bracing for a possible outbreak of bird flu in humans." Preparations include "moving to safeguard operations, protect[ing] far-flung staff and map[ping] alternative work sites in case of a quarantine," according to the Journal.
Companies examined in the article include Marriott International, Cisco Systems, Kimberly Clark, Microsoft, Cargill, Virgin Atlantic Airways, United Airlines and others (Chase, Wall Street Journal, 11/17).