Supremes ask for Obama view in vaccine case

Just how far does the vaccine shield law go? The U.S. Supreme Court wants to know. It's eyeing a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that allowed a liability suit over vaccines made by Wyeth and GlaxoSmithKline. The drugmakers want the Supremes to review that ruling; in their view, the 1986 vaccine shield law should have precluded the suit. But the Georgia high court said the 1986 law, while protecting vaccine makers from frivolous suits, doesn't prevent claims that they should have used a safer vaccine formula.

The companies argue in their appeal that the Georgia court ruling "threatens public health by inviting a litigation deluge even bigger than the one that spurred Congress to urgent action in 1986," Bloomberg reports. Wyeth and Glaxo argue that vaccine makers already face 350 lawsuits over their shots; meanwhile, almost 5,000 families with autistic children have filed claims for compensation from a $2.5 billion government fund for those injured by vaccines.

The '86 law set up a special court system just for vaccine-liability cases. The "no-fault" system guarantees payments to patients infected by vaccines. But an ongoing controversy over thimerosol-containing shots and their possible link to autism has strained the capacity of that court and raised questions about its jurisdiction.

The Supremes apparently want to step into the Wyeth/Glaxo case, but they've asked the Obama administration for its thoughts on the matter. The justices asked U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan for advice on whether they should hear the appeal, Bloomberg says. So stay tuned.

- read the Bloomberg story