Saturday, October 18, 2008

Emergency declarations smooth way for vaccine makers

The Kansas City Star
Sure, the economy is causing a crisis, but what about anthrax? How about smallpox?

In a little noticed move, federal officials this month have declared a series of public health emergencies relating to potential weapons of biological terror.

On Oct. 1, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt declared an anthrax public health emergency. On Oct. 10, he declared health emergencies for smallpox, radiation sickness from the detonation of a nuclear device and poisoning from botulinum toxins, the active ingredient of Botox.

There’s no clear evidence that terrorists have managed to weaponize anthrax or stolen large caches of Botox from cosmetic surgeons in Beverly Hills.

But by declaring these public health emergencies, HHS has granted manufacturers of anti-terrorism drugs and vaccines and others involved with the products protection from lawsuits if the drugs were to cause unfortunate side effects....

In a letter to Frist and Hastert, Sen. Ted Kennedy and 20 other members of Congress called the measure “a stealth provision to shield manufacturers from responsibility for making faulty drugs and vaccines.”

While terrorists would like to have biological weapons, they don’t have the sophisticated technology yet to make them, said R. Gregory Evans, director of the Institute for Biosecurity at St. Louis University... But someday, terrorists may develop such weapons, Evans said, which makes countermeasures like vaccines and drugs “absolutely necessary.”

“It probably does need some liability protection to get companies to develop vaccines that may never be used,” he said. “The profit margins associated with things like this are very little.” (See post above--Nass)

Health and Human Services is not invoking the law in response to any immediate threat, said William Raub, science adviser to Leavitt.

We don’t believe there’s anything imminent,” he said. “We’ve tried to be careful to not instill fear in people, (but) if we wait until the day of an event, valuable time is lost … and people could die...”

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