Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Frist responder

The most damning thing about the disclosure that the vaccine industry essentially wrote the lawsuit shield provision that "Doctor" Frist slipped into bird flu funding legislation in the wee hours before the Christmas recess (after House and Senate negotiators had agreed to dump it) is that no one is surprised. Least of all us, since we've been saying it since the event (see here, here and here). The provisions give Big Pharma virtual immunity, even when gross negligence is involved. Doctor Bill worked with his pal, House Speaker, Dennis Hastert and the lobbying team of three former Frist staffers and Hastert's son, Joshua Hastert. All in the Family.

Some of the sordid details are laid out in an article in yesterday's Tennessean, based on a Report from Public Citizen (.pdf). Included are emails between Frist and an industry trade group who worked with vaccine makers.
The group, called the Biotechnology Industry Organization [BIO], wanted such language in the bill, the e-mails reflect.

"At Senator Frist's staff's request, this morning, BIO (Tom and I) participated in a meeting with three other industry representatives (Sanofi and an outside counsel who works for both Pfizer and Roche, I believe), administration staff (HHS, DoJ and WH Leg Affairs), and Liz Hall to further discuss liability," BIO official Dave Boyer wrote in a November e-mail obtained by Public Citizen.


Frist and the White House reached out to the industry, according to the communications cited by Public Citizen, and Boyer, chief lobbyist for the industry group, was asked to provide an analysis of draft legislation.

The group asked that the legislation make clear that a vaccine maker could only be successfully sued if "willful misconduct" on its part were proved. The law includes that standard and says a company is protected from claims of negligence or recklessness.

The analysis, which Public Citizen quoted from, included BIO's concerns that the draft bill would have still allowed people hurt by vaccines to get jury trials.
"The lack of any restriction on jury trial is problematic," the analysis said. "Where injured parties have no other avenue for relief, juries are likely to find ways to award damages."

In another e-mail, Boyer described a meeting in which a deputy of Bush strategist Karl Rove said it was "important to the President that a bill move this year," and said "they had invited industry to discuss what they understood to be a few key remaining points" of contention. (The Tennessean)
Here's our small contribution to the story. The FDA Commissioner recently named David Boyer as his new Assistant Commissioner for Legislation. Boyer is the former Director of Federal Government Relations at BIO named in the article.