GOP lawmakers would shield flu vaccine makers

November 17, 2005|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- Republican lawmakers are moving swiftly to enact one part of President Bush's flu plan - a liability shield for vaccine manufacturers - while issues such as compensation for people injured by adverse reactions and even funding for the proposal remain unresolved.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, a Tennessee Republican, wants to attach the liability protections to a must-pass spending bill scheduled for quick action, spokeswoman Amy Call said yesterday. That would bypass the cumbersome process of committee hearings and floor deliberations in each chamber.

But Frist's proposal does not include a compensation program for victims, and the House and Senate disagree over how to pay for the Bush plan.

The president has asked for $7 billion in emergency funding to increase vaccine production and stockpile antiviral drugs against the threat of a pandemic. Key House Republicans want the money to come from cuts in other programs.

The legislative maneuvering over liability protections has enraged Democrats, who have blocked limits on jury awards in medical malpractice cases - a cornerstone of the GOP agenda.

And it has raised concerns among public health advocates who fear that national preparations for a possible flu pandemic could be set back by partisan warfare over the contentious issue of liability.

The liability protections would only apply to vaccines and other medicines against pandemic flu or to a pathogen that might be used in a bioterrorism attack, Call said.

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