|John Edwards to Blame for Flu Vaccine Shortage|
|Netlore Archive: Email flier blames 2004 shortage of flu vaccine in the U.S. on 'frivolous litigation' by vice-presidential candidate and former trial lawyer John Edwards|
Email example contributed by M. Skinner, 19 October 2004:
How the vaccine works:
Influenza vaccine is produced by growing the virus in eggs. The virus is killed and processed to create the vaccine, which is given by injection under the skin. The body then produces antibodies to the virus over the next two to four weeks. If the immunized person then comes into contact with the influenza virus, the antibodies attack and kill the virus before it has a chance to cause infection. The vaccine contains the 3 most likely strains to be active during the "flu season"
Why the shortage:
Almost half of the nation's flu vaccine will not be delivered thisyear. Chiron, a major manufacturer of flu vaccine, will not be distributing any influenza vaccine this flu season. Chiron was to make 46-48 million doses of vaccine for the United States. Chiron is a British company. Recently British health officials stopped Chiron from distributing and making the vaccine when inspectors found unsanitary conditions in the labs. Some lots of the vaccine were recalled and destroyed.
Why is our vaccine made in the UK and not the US?
The major pharmaceutical companies in the US provided almost 90% of the nations flu vaccine at one time. They did this despite a very low profit margin for the product. Basically, they were doing us a favor. In the late 80's a man from North Carolina who had received the vaccine got the flu. The strain he caught was one of the strains in that years vaccine made by a US company. What did he do? He sued and he won. He was awarded almost $5 million! After that case was appealed and lost, most US pharmaceutical companies stopped making the vaccine. The liability out weighed the profit margin. Since UK and Canadian laws prohibit such frivolous law suits UK and Canadian companies began selling the vaccine in the US.
By the way...the lawyer that represented the man in the flu shot law suit was a young ambulance chaser by the name of John Edwards.
Comments: (UPDATED) According to North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, there is no record of a liability lawsuit involving a flu vaccine manufacturer litigated in North Carolina by Democratic presidential candidate (and former trial lawyer) John Edwards.
As I wrote before that information became available, it's a moot point anyway, given that knowledgeable sources do not attribute the current U.S. vaccine shortage to litigation, "frivolous" or otherwise.
As the email correctly states, the immediate cause of the shortage was a halt in production by Chiron Corp., one of the two main suppliers of flu vaccine to the United States, after contamination was discovered at its newly-purchased Liverpool, England plant. Authorities revoked the company's license, leaving the U.S. approximately 40 percent short of its planned stockpile of 100 million doses for the year.
Chiron is an American company, however, not a British one. Its headquarters are in Emeryville, California. The other primary U.S. supplier, Aventis Pasteur, is a French company which manufactures its flu vaccine in Pennsylvania.
High-risk, low-profit, labor-intensive
While it's true that there used to be more U.S.-based pharmaceutical companies making influenza vaccines, it isn't necessarily true that the ones who stopped did so because they feared litigation. The fact of the matter is that, compared to manufacturing drugs or other types of vaccine, producing flu vaccine is an exceedingly high-risk, low-profit, labor-intensive enterprise. Pharmaceutical companies have dumped the product because, in the words of a recent Washington Post article, it "has simply become too much trouble." Liability costs, real or potential, comprise only part of an economic equation which also includes such factors as government regulation (including price controls), market unpredictability and production challenges unique to flu vaccines. For perspective, according to data published by the U.S. Health and Human Resources there were only two lawsuits filed per 10 million doses of flu vaccine between 1990 and 1995 a ratio the Raleigh News & Observer called "minimal" in an article published October 29.
Twenty years ago, liability lawsuits did contribute to the withdrawal of manufacturers from the market and national vaccine shortages, government sources confirm, but the industry's burden of risk was significantly reduced from the late 1980s on by the enactment of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which provides alternatives to litigation.
Sources and further reading:
Flu Shots: What You Need to Know
Associated Press, 21 October 2004
Shortage in Flu Vaccine Teaches Lessons
Associated Press, 20 October 2004
Companies Find Flu Vaccine More Trouble than It's Worth
Washington Post, 17 October 2004
The Press Wrestles with the Politics of Flu
Columbia Journalism Review, 20 October 2004
Nat'l Vaccine Supply Report - Liability Issues
Nat'l Vaccine Advisory Council, January 2000
Major Cases Litigated by John Edwards
Findlaw Legal News and Commentary
Rumor Blames Edwards
Raleigh News & Observer, 29 October 2004
Last updated: 10/29/04