Rider on Homeland Security Bill Could ‘Head Off’ Autism Lawsuits Tied to Vaccinations
A provision contained in the bill (HR 5710) approved by the House this week that would establish a Homeland Security Department also could "head off dozens of potential lawsuits" against vaccine manufacturers, the Washington Post reports. Under the rider, such lawsuits would be "channeled" to a federal vaccine compensation program created 14 years ago to give liability protection to vaccine manufacturers. The federal program, which is funded through surcharges on vaccines, stipulates that the maximum compensation for individuals allegedly injured by vaccines is $250,000 (Morgan, Washington Post, 11/15). Some health care providers have said they would not be willing to administer the smallpox vaccine without such protection. Democrats "are angered" by the "last-minute" provision, saying it "was slipped in with no debate," the Wall Street Journal reports. According to Jim Manley, a spokesperson for Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), the rider was put in at the "behest of Eli Lilly," one of several vaccine manufacturers that faces lawsuits filed by parents of children with autism (Lueck, Wall Street Journal, 11/15). Some parents have alleged that the vaccine preservative Thimerosal, which contains mercury, is connected to autism. Medical studies, however, have not confirmed such a link, the Post reports.
Lawyers for parents who are suing vaccine manufacturers over the alleged link said that the rider would keep such lawsuits out of state courts, "ruling out huge judgments and lengthy litigation," the Post reports. Andrew Waters, a lawyer in Dallas, said, "The [drug] industry has seized the opportunity presented by a Republican House and Senate to immediately pass legislation to get the industry off the hook." However, GOP officials contend the provision is to protect vaccine manufacturers "working on life-saving products from being dragged into costly litigation by trial lawyers," the Post reports. Richard Diamond, a spokesperson for Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas), added, "We don't want companies to be steered away from the business of making things that can save lives" (Washington Post, 11/15). NPR's "Morning Edition" today reported on the challenges involved in merging "diverse" federal agencies to form a new Department of Homeland Security, including finding ways for the agencies to communicate electronically and provisions to give pharmaceutical companies liability protection for vaccines given to children (Fessler, "Morning Edition," NPR, 11/15). The full segment is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.