Avian-flu vaccine makers receive immunity from liability lawsuits

The Bush administration has triggered a provision of a 2005 law that protects companies producing vaccines or drugs made in connection with avian-flu from product-liability lawsuits. The law gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services power to grant immunity to vaccine and drug makers in the event of a risk to public health. In a directive last week, HHS invoked the clause, “based on a credible risk that an avian- influenza virus spreads and evolves into a strain capable of causing a pandemic of human influenza.” Bill Hall, an HHS spokesman told The Wall Street Journal, the agency’s declaration “allows us to remove the remaining barrier to building up our domestic capacity to manufacturers of vaccines in a flu pandemic.” Hall denied to The Journal that the move reflected heightened concern about the avian flu. Rather, he said, “It was a precautionary step.” As part of a plan to spur development of experimental vaccines and other countermeasures against bioterrorism threats, Congress passed the bill in late 2005 to provide liability protection to those vaccine makers. The measure was signed by President Bush in December 2005 but was met with criticism by some trial lawyers and lawmakers as a giveaway to drug companies.