[JURIST] Outlining a $7.1 million plan to prepare for a possible bird flu epidemic [White House fact sheet], President Bush has asked Congress to devise a plan to provide liability protection for vaccine manufacturers. In his speech [text] Tuesday, Bush said that extending liability protection was key to encouraging vaccine production in the US:
I'm also asking Congress to remove one of the greatest obstacles to domestic vaccine production: the growing burden of litigation. In the past three decades, the number of vaccine manufacturers in America has plummeted, as the industry has been flooded with lawsuits. Today, there is only one manufacturer in the United States that can produce influenza vaccine. That leaves our nation vulnerable in the event of a pandemic. We must increase the number of vaccine manufacturers in our country, and improve our domestic production capacity. So Congress must pass liability protection for the makers of life-saving vaccines.
Reaction to the proposal has been mixed, with some experts saying that Bush is raising a "bogus issue" and others saying that companies who fear lawsuits may stop producing vaccines. A spokesman for Sanofi Pasteur [corporate website], the French-based multinational vaccine manufacturer with production facilities in the US, stated that the company agrees with the liability protection provision. In late 2002, the White House announced a similar plan [press release] to protect Americans from the threat of smallpox that included proposals to provide immunity from liability [LSU Law Center backgrounder] for manufacturers and those authorized to administer smallpox vaccines. Section 304 of the Homeland Security Act [CDC backgrounder], which took effect in January 2003, provided an exclusive remedy against the United States for injury or death attributable to smallpox vaccine, precluding recovery against other entities such as vaccine manufacturers. Newsday has more.