December 18, 2003

Not those Evil Drug Companies Again!

BLAME THE TORT LAWYERS!!! They're driving us out of the vaccine business with frivolous lawsuits!

It's become the standard response of the pharmaceutical industry to complaints about the shortage of flu vaccine this year. You hear it spouted by drug reps, politicians, even by doctors. And it's a bare-faced lie.

The argument is that there aren't enough doses of flu vaccine because lawsuits have made it unpofitable for pharmaceutical companies to manufacture enough vaccine. That since the federal government is the biggest single buyer of flu vaccine, federal price controls have finished the job by making it unprofitable to produce enough to make a profit. That despite the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) designed to prevent it, the tort lawyers are digging through loopholes to bleed drug companies dry suing them over vaccines.

The truth is that the amount of flu vaccine produced in any given year is determined months ahead of the flu season, is based solely on projected demand, and that ALL flu-vaccine related suits ARE handled by the VICP, not the regular courts. After several years of mild flu seasons, demand had dropped off, and the drug companies accordingly manufactured less vaccine in response to the anticipated weak demand. When the quantities to be manufactured were determined, months ago, the Fujian flu strain now sweeping the country and boosting demand for vaccinations was only beginning to be noticed, and was not included in the vaccine. So less vaccine was manufactured than in the past, and there's simply no way to switch gears and produce a new vaccine (or even more of the same vaccine) overnight. It takes months.

And the other truth is that the vaccine cases now being pursued by tort attorneys outside the VICP aren't over the flu vaccine, but over mercury-containing pediatric vaccines suspected of causing the explosion in autism cases in the last two decades. The drug companies knew for years that mercury, though useful as a preservative, can produce profound neural problems in fetuses, newborns, and infants, yet they continued to sell and promote these mercury-containing vaccines even as the number of required infant vaccinations expanded, raising the doses of mercury received by infants to many times the "safe" amount for infant exposure.

Autism is a neural-developmental disorder with symptoms nearly identical to mercury poisoning. As infant mercury exposure through vaccines rose over the last two decades due to the increase in required vaccinations, so rose autism levels. While no direct mechanism has yet been established, the epidimiological evidence of a connection between mercury and autism is suggestive. (For reference, while thalidomide was indentified as causing birth defects in the early 1960's, the actual mechanism by which it did so was not found until the 1980's.)

The law says that vaccination suits must be brought through the VICP. But the VICP is designed to compensate acute (quickly appearing) adverse reactions to vaccines, not chronic late-appearing injuries like autism that may not be diagnosed for years after the exposure. As evidence of an autism/mercury connection began appearing the parents of autistic children began asking questions, and were referred to VICP, where they quickly discovered that they not only couldn't sue through the regular courts, they were barred from seeking compensation from VICP because of extremely strict time limits for filing claims. In short, if you think your child became autistic due to mercury in pediatric vaccines, it doesn't matter if you're right or wrong. You're simply out of luck, and barred from making any claims. UNLESS, as some attorneys are attempting, you can somehow file suit for intentional negligence in leaving doses of a known brain-crippling poison in infant vaccines, when the evidence that it was dangerous was there all along.

That is what the shouting was about on those clauses buried in the Homeland Security Act in the dead of night--clauses that released drug companies for ALL liability related to pediatric vaccinations, and also left the government compensation program immune from claims for same through those time limitations. The scientific verdict is still out on the mercury/autism connection, and it may be many years before medical science can say for certain if there's a solid link, and what that link is. In the meantime, tens of thousands of autistic children require massive amounts of treatment for a chance at a real life, and their families go bankrupt paying for it, and both the drug companies and the federal government fight like wolverines to immunize themselves from any liability regardless of what that truth may turn out to be. There is already considerable evidence that both the CDC and the drug companies have altered and distorted research that showed a plausible connection, and the paper shredders may well be in overdrive in many corporate headquarters.

A shortage of flu vaccine related to increased demand and panic buying provides an opportunity for the drug companies to muddy the waters on this related issue of autism/mercury suits, and they did not become the largest, most powerful corporations in the world by passing up opportunities. A panic related to any the shortage of ANY vaccine provides an opportunity to immunize themselves a bit more from their own past actions, and they're not going to let that slip away.

None of these inconvenient realities will stop the drug companies and their minions from blaming it all on the lawyers. And none of the screaming and shouting and finger-pointing will provide any relief for chronic victims of vaccine reactions. Only a comprehensive reform of the VICP to address future chronic injuries and "grandfather" existing chronic injuries into the program could do that, but that reform continues to be buried in committee, fought at every turn by both the drug companies and the administration, neither of whom want to pick up the tab, which could easily run to many billions of dollars. With tens of thousands of autistic children (and their families) suffering, this is one issue that won't go away until the truth is finally known. But it's hard to seek the truth when the full resources of the world's largest corporations and the world's wealthiest, most powerful government seem determined to bury it.

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