NC Media Watch

A quest for reason and accuracy in letters to the editor, guest editorials and other issues of interest to the citizens of Western Nevada County.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

In Case of Pandemic Call Your Tort Lawyer

In the 1 December 05 issue of the Wall Street Journal the Chief of Infectious Diseases at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia, Dr. Paul A. Offit gives a brief history (‘Lawsuits Won't Stop Pandemics’) of the legal profession’s impact on our country’s ability to defend against pandemics. He recounts the wonderful legacy of vaccines in reducing mortality and morbidity and even eliminating some diseases. For completeness he also lists the few tragedies of vaccines that did not work as intended. The point of the article is that when tort-based greed entered the scene the effect has been to reduce the number of vaccine makers and the availability of vaccines. That has left all of us in greater danger against diseases that can spread worldwide at the speed of an airliner. Going into new areas involves a level of unavoidable risk, or as Offit states -
Like it or not, we learn as we go. And no amount of suing is ever going to change that. In addition to contributing nothing to making vaccines safer, personal-injury lawyers have made vaccines more expensive and less available. That's because most lawsuits are directed at problems not caused by vaccines. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, lawyers sued vaccine makers claiming that the pertussis vaccine caused Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, paralysis, mental retardation, epilepsy and unexplained coma. Despite a series of epidemiologic studies showing these claims to be groundless, many lawsuits were successful. As a consequence, the price of the pertussis vaccine increased from 17 cents per dose to $11, the number of companies making vaccines decreased from 26 to four, and the number of U.S.-based companies making influenza vaccine decreased from six to zero. And they're still at it. Today, personal-injury lawyers claim that thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative in vaccines, caused autism -- despite abundant scientific evidence to the contrary.
Today, in the face of looming pandemics, the political representatives of the pre-educated are again rallying against the latest legislative efforts to correct the mistakes of the past. Efforts to limit such frivolous lawsuits are branded as payoffs to the big pharmas and denying the poor consumer the ability to wreak justice against big business from which all evil flows.

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