Supreme Court rules against parents in vaccine case

The Supreme Court voted 6-2 in Bruesewitz v. Wyeth to uphold a law that protects vaccine manufacturers from being sued for injuries that occur after routine childhood vaccination.

"Today's Supreme Court decision protects children by strengthening our national immunization system and ensuring that vaccines will continue to prevent the spread of infectious diseases in this country,” American Academy of Pediatrics President O. Marion Burton, MD, said in a statement. "Childhood vaccines are among the greatest medical breakthroughs of the last century.”

Instituted in 1986 the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act prevents the manufacturers of FDA-approved childhood vaccines from being sued by parents who argue that a given vaccine could have been designed differently to prevent injuries.

“[The Vaccine Act] reflects a sensible choice to leave complex epidemiological judgments about vaccine design to the FDA and the National Vaccine Program rather than juries,” Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scallia wrote in the decision of the Court.

A federally funded vaccine compensation program has existed since the Vaccine Act's inception to provide compensation for those who have suffered rare, but serious injuries from vaccines. Compensation may be rewarded without having to prove fault or defect with the administered vaccine.

The AAP, along with 21 other physician and public health organizations submitted amicus brief's supporting Wyeth, and noted that a ruling against the manufacturer could “precipitate the same crisis that Congress sought to avert in passing the Vaccine Act: ‘the very real possibility of vaccine shortages, and, in turn increasing numbers of unimmunized children, and, perhaps, a resurgence of preventable diseases.'”

Justices Sonya Sotomayor and Ruth Bader dissented. In a dissent option, Sotomayor wrote that the ruling imposed the Justices' own "bare policy preference over the considered judgement of Congress," and in doing so “misconstrues the law and disturbs the careful balance Congress struck between compensating vaccine-injured children and stabilizing the childhood vaccine market."

Justice Elena Kagan abstained from voting, as she was involved with the case during her time with the Justice Department.

Although Bruesewitz v. Wyeth did not involve autism, the ruling may have important implications for hundreds of unrelated lawsuits file by parents that believe vaccines caused their child's autism, despite the lack of scientific link evidence and multiple court decisions that state that there is no link between the two.

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