Supremes agree to take vaccines case

The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a suit pitting parents against vaccine makers. The case would determine whether federal law protects vaccine makers from liability lawsuits in state court.

The case, filed against Wyeth, involves a child who began to have seizures after her third dose of the company's DTP vaccine. The parents filed a complaint in the federal vaccine court created by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986--and lost. They then sued in state court. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in another case that "design defect" claims could be heard in state court, but a federal appeals court in Philadelphia disagreed. The Vaccine Injury Act was designed to shield vaccine makers so they would have more incentive to develop the shots.

Enter the Supremes, who'll decide between the Georgia position and the Philly approach. Pfizer, which now owns Wyeth, says in a statement that it hopes the Supreme Court will affirm that Philadelphia appeals court's decision. "Pfizer is pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to solve this legal issue, which is of critical important to national public health policy," the company says.

As Reuters points out, there are some 5,000 claims in vaccines court alleging that childhood shots can cause autism and other neurological problems; if the Supremes reverse the appeals court, then those claims could also be filed in state court. That would be quite a snarl for vaccine makers to unravel.

- read the Reuters story