COMPENSATING A MUST FOR VACCINE INJURIES
25 Nov 2002
Source: Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2002.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Compensating a Must For Vaccine Injuries
In reaction to your Nov. 18 editorial "Politicizing Vaccines":
The homeland security bill contains several liability protection provisions. One provision concerns the smallpox vaccine. It limits the liability of manufacturers and health-care providers for injuries caused by this vaccine -- but does nothing to compensate the Americans who we know will be injured by the vaccine. This omission is inexcusable, and I stand by my comment that Republicans have protected everyone but the people who need protection the most.
Your editorial, however, took my comment on the smallpox liability program and applied it to an entirely unrelated provision in the homeland security bill. This second provision provides new liability protection for makers of thimerosal, a preservative that was previously used in some childhood vaccines. You accuse me of opposing this provision in order to foster litigation. You then approvingly cite the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a government initiative that provides compensation outside of the tort system for children injured by vaccines.
In fact, I authored the legislation creating the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. My belief that we should apply this successful model to smallpox vaccine is exactly why I am so disappointed that the homeland security bill does nothing to compensate those injured by the vaccine.
I oppose the thimerosal provisions because they have nothing to do with homeland security and do not belong in the bill. There was no debate on these provisions and virtually no House members even knew they were in the bill. When Congress approves provisions of this import, it should be by a deliberative process and not by the legislative fiat of one member who refuses even to acknowledge responsibility for these provisions.
These liability protections should be considered in separate legislation along with many other changes to the childhood vaccine program also recommended by the independent HHS advisory panel that oversees this program.
Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D., Calif.)
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Government Reform
WASHINGTON -- A Pentagon project to build a computer system to sift through billions of consumer records for clues to terrorist activity gives privacy advocates fits. But it is just the start of a lavish federal research and development effort shaped by the Sept. 11 terror attacks.
Congress recently approved an 18% increase in military R&D, to $58.8 billion for the current fiscal year -- more money, after accounting for inflation , than the Pentagon ever spent on research during the Cold War. Early next year, the National Institutes of Health is in line for a similar-size boost to around $26 billion, partly to examine biological-warfare defenses. In all, the federal government will likely spend about $115 billion on R&D in the year ending Sept. 30, far more than Japan and the 15 European Union governments will spend collectively.
The war on terror gives the federal R&D effort an immediacy -- something it has largely lacked for two decades. The 1980s buildup during the Reagan administration included expensive research on exotic space-based lasers and particle-beam weapons to intercept Soviet missiles; the weapons remain sci-fi dreams today. In the 1990s, the focus turned to the economic challenge from Japan. The Pentagon and Commerce departments looked into building a domestic high-definition TV industry, strengthening the machine-tool industry, and building a super-efficient car in conjunction with Detroit. Although the programs produced some technological successes, the industrial-policy efforts failed to achieve their ambitious goals.
No Critical Mass
In the early 1990s, some Pentagon officials tried to put together a program in bio-war research, including how to detect attacks and the presence of biological agents, and how to treat soldiers who had been attacked. But the threat seemed remote. Congress directed Pentagon medical research instead to focus mainly on HIV, breast cancer and other traditional diseases. "We didn't have the critical mass of folks working in this area to do the fundamental research and to do the work to get new drugs" for bio-war treatments, says retired Gen. Walter Busbee, a former Pentagon bio-war official.
The situation began to change in the late 1990s, as the government responded to publicity about killer germs. But the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare that followed jolted the federal research establishment. The Bush White House proposed to more than double counterterrorism funding to $2.9 billion, with more than half the money going to the NIH. Congress hasn't finished work on appropriations, but it is likely to approve an amount of that size. The additional money will be used to develop vaccines effective against a broad range of biological agents and also to construct secure laboratories. The new Homeland Security Department will have an agency with a budget of $200 million specifically devoted to researching new technologies, but it isn't expected to get any funds until fiscal 2004.
The Pentagon is boosting its biological-warfare effort, including a program to look for anthrax remedies. It is also focusing on information technologies, long an expertise of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which funded initial research into the Internet and high-speed computing. The agency got a 21% boost in funding to $2.7 billion, and set up the Information Awareness Office under the direction of former Reagan National Security Adviser John Poindexter, who was at the center of the Iran-Contra scandal.
Apart from developing a computer system to search through massive databases for patterns of behavior that might signal terrorist activities -- for instance, purchasing large amounts of chemicals -- the office wants to improve software to transcribe and decipher foreign-language messages. "The scary thing about Poindexter is what kind of data he gets his hands on," says Henry Kelly, president of the Federation of American Scientists. "But searching for unusual patterns you can't anticipate is one of the more interesting challenges" in computing.
Unlike the 1990s, when government research was explicitly designed to boost commercial industries, the post-Sept. 11 focus is on filling government needs to protect soldiers from biological attack, reinforce buildings and search for terrorists. But the more limited focus may yet produce more commercial spinoffs. In the past, the government tried to anticipate the needs of industry, and often was mistaken. Now, the government's needs for improved security are similar to industry's needs -- and both need new technologies to accomplish their goals.
"Everybody expects to see some payoff," says Jack Marburger, President Bush's science adviser. "Enhancements in the instrumentation [needed] to discover new things give you totally different technologies." And those technologies ultimately can become the bases of new industries.