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U.S. Supreme Court Vaccine Case

This has been making the news lately. The U. S. Supreme Court is hearing a case about vaccines. Well, it isn’t really, but that’s what some headlines would have you believe. The most misleading of the bunch is this one at Yahoo News: Court hears case about vaccine side effects. F! Not even close; what the Supreme Court is hearing is not a case about vaccine side effects, but a case about the right of individuals to sue a vaccine manufacturer outside of vaccine court. In a few words, the Supreme Court is trying to interpret the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, to give a better understanding of which cases of vaccine injury belong specifically to the Vaccine Court, and which cases can be brought before the regular courts (emphasis added).

What is not at issue is that 18-year-old Hannah Bruesewitz is disabled, requiring special care for life.

Nor is the question of whether the diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, or DTP vaccine, she was injected with as an infant caused her seizures and consequent brain damage, or whether vaccine maker Wyeth, now part of Pfizer, is to blame.

The question is whether Hannah’s parents, Russell and Robalee Bruesewitz, can sue.

Let me give you some background. On October 1, 1988, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 (Public Law 99-660) created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The VICP was set up to: “ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines.” In other words, it is a special court that handles lawsuits for individuals that suffer certain rare, but known, side effects from vaccines.

The purpose of the  VICP is to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, by shielding vaccine manufacturers from certain lawsuits, which  could be devastating to a company and can bankrupt them. Allowing that to happen would seriously threaten the supply of vaccines, and if our supply of vaccines is seriously affected many diseases could come back and wreak havoc with humanity.

However, this law shouldn’t be interpreted to shield vaccine manufacturers from negligent misconduct, and it appears the original 1986 law is a bit vague on what exactly should be covered by the vaccine court, so much so that even the experienced Supreme Court Justices are a bit confused over it, at least according to another headline.

The justices’ questions focused not on the facts of the case, but on the convoluted wording of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986

The Supreme Court is not expected to rule until next year and their questions show the justices struggled to understand the meaning of the law and of the intended lawsuit.

“What they — the language that they used is certainly, to say the least, confusing,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

My naive take on this issue is as such: the manufacturers should be held liable for negligent misconduct one way or another. A law cannot shield manufacturers for willful, or negligent misconduct. However, the original purpose of the VICP should be upheld. Parent’s shouldn’t be allowed to sue directly for injuries that are soundly refuted by the scientific evidence, such as autism for example.

This limitation is not meant to protect Big Pharma, evident by the fact that this protection does not extend to other drugs Big Pharma produces, but is meant to protect the supply of vaccines, which are probably the most important line of defence against many childhood vaccines, and which have collectively saved hundreds of thousands of lives since they were first used. As reported in the NYTimes:

Ms. Bruesewitz’s case turns on the text of the federal law, which bars ordinary lawsuits “if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.”

Much of the argument concerned the meaning of the word “unavoidable.”

“The language that they used is certainly, to say the least, confusing,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said.

Ms. Sullivan, the Wyeth lawyer, said Congress had meant to allow only lawsuits arising from manufacturing flaws and inadequate warnings. Suits over asserted design defects — those arising from the nature of the vaccine itself as compared with other, potentially safer ones — were meant to be barred, she said.


New York Times




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