“Vaccines Court” Protects Drug ManufacturersMarch 3, 2009
Last week’s issue of Pulse of Health Freedom discussed the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault payout system designed to protect vaccine makers from the kind of costly lawsuits that drove many out of the vaccine-making business in the 1970s and ’80s. This compensation program was put in place in 1986 in the hope that it would encourage the development of new vaccines.
Vaccines have been responsible for huge reductions in childhood diseases, and in the case of smallpox, its complete eradication. At the same time, however, this program—and the “vaccines court” that hears the plaintiffs’ cases, buffers Wyeth and other drug companies from much of the litigation risk, and has made Wyeth a very wealthy company—worth $68 billion according to the price being paid for it by Pfizer. Vaccines account for over $21 billion in sales for their various manufacturers.
Because of this, many experts are questioning whether the shield law is still appropriate. Critics say the vaccine court’s ruling last month that routine childhood immunizations are not linked to autism underscored the limited recourse families have in claiming injury from vaccines. “When you’ve got a monopoly and can dictate price in a way that you couldn’t before, I’m not sure you need the liability protection,” said Lars Noah, a specialist in medical technology at the University of Florida’s law school who has written about vaccines.
While injured parties can bring lawsuits in civil court under certain conditions, they face restrictions on punitive damages, and the difficult and costly process means that most plaintiffs settle for whatever “vaccine court” decides.
Does the lack of liability for drug companies compromise the safety of vaccines? Many critics believe that if patients had greater freedom to sue vaccine makers, drug companies would employ a much higher degree of oversight.