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April 2009
Vol. 19 No. 4
Policy and Advocacy
Immunization Advocates Urge Supreme Court to Review Vaccine Injury Decision

IDSA and other groups are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn a recent Georgia decision that could threaten the federal no-fault vaccine injury compensation system.

IDSA and the Pediatric Infectious Disease Society (PIDS) have joined several other groups in signing on to an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “friends of the court” brief  in response to a recent decision by the Georgia Supreme Court that would allow cases alleging injury from childhood vaccines to be decided by state juries, circumventing the federal system.

Congress enacted the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act in 1986 to safeguard the nation’s vaccine supply and to provide fair and timely compensation to the small number of children who are injured by vaccines. The law came about because vaccine-related lawsuits against manufacturers had spiked in the 1980s, causing several manufacturers to abandon the field or avoid pursuing promising new vaccines. To put an end to the numerous state lawsuits, Congress set up a no-fault compensation system administered by the U.S. Court of Claims.

The Georgia case, American Home Products Corp. v. Ferrari, which was decided last October, would essentially reverse the federal law. In that case, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Marcelo and Carolyn Ferrari’s civil lawsuit against vaccine manufacturers Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline on behalf of their autistic son is not barred by the federal law.

“If this decision is allowed to stand, it could lead to the very same crisis that Congress sought to prevent in passing the original legislation. There is a genuine threat to our nation’s public health if manufacturers abandon or consider abandoning the production of vaccines. This decision would set our country back decades, and have deadly consequences for our children,” said Stephan E. Lawton, JD, who co-authored the amicus brief.

In filing the brief, the medical societies and other organizations lent their support to the current no-fault system, and urged that the Georgia decision be overturned.

The manufacturers filed petitions for review with the U.S. Supreme Court in early March and expect to hear whether the court will hear their appeal in mid May.

Other organizations that joined AAP, IDSA, and PIDS in the brief include:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • AAP Section on Infectious Diseases
  • American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians
  • American Medical Association
  • American Public Health Association
  • Every Child By Two
  • Immunization Action Coalition
  • Vaccine Education Center at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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