Legislation that would protect drug manufacturers from consumers seeking damages on claims they were harmed by a vaccine was approved by the House.
Supporters say the liability protections are necessary before drug makers will invest in vaccines to combat a potential bird flu pandemic.
But opponents hold that the legislation puts the health and safety of consumers at risk.
Consumers Must Prove 'Willful Misconduct'
Many product liability cases require consumers seeking damages to prove negligence, or the failure of the manufacturer to exercise reasonable care. The liability protections, however, require that consumer cases prove willful misconduct on the part of the drug manufacturers.
This is much harder to prove than negligence, and would likely discourage many lawsuits.
Compensation System Sans Funding?
The legislation was attached to the Defense Appropriations Bill, a bill that's expected to be passed to fund military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a move that opponents frowned upon.
The liability protections include a compensation system, in which those who receive pandemic flu vaccines could apply for lost income, medical expenses and death benefits. However, opponents say no money has been set aside for the fund, and they question whether it will ever be funded.
The legislation would apply to any product used to prevent or treat an epidemic or a pandemic.
Billions Appropriated to 'Pandemic Preparedness'
The defense bill sets aside $3.8 billion for improved pandemic preparedness. Almost all of the funding ($3.3 billion) would go to the Department of Health and Human Services for purchasing vaccines and antivirals, state and local planning and improved surveillance.
If this legislation is passed, it will be another blatant demonstration of how powerful the corporate drug interests have become.
They have the largest political lobby in Congress and have so much influence that they can manipulate laws to insulate them from any responsibility in harming or killing children in their relentless drive to earn profits -- without any regard to human health or well-being.
I suspect the House approved the measure largely because it was attached to a defense bill that funds military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan -- a move blasted by opponents.
In fact, the bill offers liability protections to any product used to fight "an epidemic," and the government decides what constitutes one. Even worse, no court can review that decision, says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).
And, to add insult to injury, the bill calls for a compensation plan modeled after similar laws approved for other vaccines, but appropriates no money to fund it. At the same time, it sets aside nearly $4 billion for pandemic preparedness.
Three safe ways to protect your health from the flu without the need for any potentially health-harming vaccines or drugs: