Supreme Court Case Could Make Vaccine Makers More Liable

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In an Amicus brief to the Supreme Court in July, the American Academy of Pediatrics along with dozens of other health organizations wrote in support of the vaccine injury compensation program, noting that returning to a case-by-case procedure of evalulating vaccine safety could threaten the ability of manufacturers to properly supply vaccine.

Pfizer, who bought Wyeth in 2009, writes in a press release that the company "hope[s] that the Supreme Court will affirm Wyeth's victory in the lower courts, which held that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act places the responsibility for determining the optimal design of life-saving childhood vaccines in the hands of expert federal agencies, not a patchwork of state tort systems."

Should the Government Shield Vaccine Makers?

The intention of the compensation program was to provide compensation for those harmed by vaccines while allowing manufacturers to operate and develop new, hopefully safer, vaccines without undue threat of liability.

The compensation program is funded by a surcharge put on every vaccine that is sold, not by taxpayer or by manufacturer's money and expert judges, called special masters, review petitions and aware compensation to those injuries or deaths deemed genuinely caused by vaccines.

"There's an understanding that when you vaccine people, there are certain number of individuals who may sustain a vaccine injury," Schaffner says, and the act set up an "ethical" and "rigorous" way of compensating these individuals.

While many doctors view this special compensation court has been a great success, it does leave those whose claims have been rejected by the vaccine court with little recourse -- an issue that vaccine critics and skeptics feel is highlighted by the Bruesewitz case.

The intentions of the vaccine court were "proper and good" but in reality the system has become an "antagonistic process" against victims and their families, says Neil Miller, director of Thinktwice Global Vaccine Institute, an advocacy group for vaccine education and the freedom of parents to refuse vaccines for their children.

Miller feels that by putting in place a no-fault system for addressing vaccine safety the vaccine courts have "created a disincentive for the manufacturers to make safer vaccines."

"As it stands now, I think these vaccines are not being investigated enough in terms of their safety profiles," he adds. "I would like to see parents have the ability to take manufacturers directly to court, as they would for the maker of any other dysfunctional or negligent products."

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