Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Childhood Vaccine Case

March 9, 2010

Reuters is reporting that the United States Supreme Court stated on Monday that it had agreed to hear a Pennsylvania case involving a lawsuit filed by parents of s child who suffered seizures after her third round of the standard childhood DPT (diptheria-tetanus-pertussis) vaccine. The suit was filed against vaccine manufacturer Wyeth, which was purchased by Pfizer, Inc., last year.

The issue at hand involves the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which states that no vaccine manufacturer “…shall be liable in any civil action…” for injuries that “…resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings…”

After conflicting lower-court rulings, the high court agreed to hear the case.

The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that Federal law does allow some design defect claims against vaccine manufacturers, but a U.S. appeals court based in Philadelphia, PA, ruled that Congress had expressly prohibited such claims in order to protect drug manufactures from liability.

Representatives of the Obama administration also offered comment, stating that the Federal law did expressly prohibit design defect lawsuits in state court, but said that with the conflicting rulings, getting the Supreme Court involved was warranted.

Attorneys for the administration also said that as long as the issue remains unresolved, manufacturers’ concern about potential liability may be a detriment to the public health, because it could deter the development and production of vaccines.

In response to the Supreme Court’s announcement, Pfizer made a statement saying it was “…hopeful that the Supreme Court will affirm…” the Philadelphia appeals court ruling. “Pfizer is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to resolve this legal issue, which is of critical importance to national public health policy,” the company said.

Currently, there are roughly 5,000 claims alleging a link between childhood vaccines and neurological damage (including autism) pending under the process set under Federal law. The legal issue would affect the ability of all of those claimants to seek damages under state law as well.

The patient in the Pennsylvania case is Hannah Bruesewitz, whose parents allege that her seizure disorder and serious developmental delay are directly related to toxins inherent in the design of the DPT vaccine. After they were rejected by the Federal compensation process, the Bruesewitzes filed a lawsuit in state court, but the appeals court and a Federal judge both ruled that their lawsuit was disallowed by Federal law.

The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments in the case and to issue its decision during its upcoming term that begins in October.

Meanwhile, Pfizer shares fell 1 percent to $17.30 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.