The U.S. Supreme Court today hears a pivotal case on how families who say their children were injured by vaccines should be compensated. The current system was established by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986, when vaccine manufacturers were facing a flood of lawsuits and threatening to pull out of the vaccine-making business. The act set up a "vaccine court" and a tax-funded compensation pot that doles out money for injuries linked to various childhood vaccines.
But the family of 18-year-old Hannah Bruesewitz says that she hasn't been served well by this system. They argue that she suffered seizures and developmental delays following a DTP (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine manufactured by Wyeth, which she got as a 6-month-old back in 1992. Wyeth eventually withdrew this vaccine from the market. However, the vaccine court didn't recognize Bruesewitz's claim because, 1 month before her case was filed, the type of complications she experienced were removed from a list of those entitled to compensation, based on epidemiological evidence that vaccines weren't the cause.
The Bruesewitzes argue that they are entitled to sue Wyeth (now part of the drug company Pfizer): The Vaccine Act, they say, doesn't shield companies from "design-defect claims." In this case, they contend the DTP vaccine their daughter got had a "scientifically outmoded design" and that "Wyeth declined to change its DTP vaccine's design because it viewed the economic costs as outweighing any potential gain in market share."
Wyeth disputes this. It says it is protected from liability in this case by the 1986 Vaccine Act. An appeals court sided with Wyeth, and the Bruesewitzes took their case to the Supreme Court.