Following Senator John Kerry's recent criticism of President George W. Bush's alleged failure to anticipate the current nationwide shortage of flu vaccinations, conservative media figures have quickly echoed Bush's claim that medical liability is the major cause of the shortage. But, according to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a division of the National Institutes of Health, fear of liability is "only a very small part" of the vaccine shortage.
In the October 13 presidential debate, Bush claimed: "Vaccine manufacturers are worried about getting sued, and therefore they have backed off from providing this kind of [flu] vaccine."
An article in the October 25 issue of The Weekly Standard magazine declared: "Vaccines are the one area of medicine where trial lawyers are almost completely responsible for the problem."
Republican political consultant and frequent cable news channel guest Ed Rogers, as a guest on the October 19 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, insisted: "The reason we don't have all the flu vaccine we need is the menacing presence of the trial lawyers."
On the October 18 broadcast of the nationally syndicated Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, O'Reilly and co-host E.D. Hill agreed that lawsuits were the major problem:
HILL: The Bush folks come back and they say, "You know we'd be able to produce it [flu vaccines] here if companies weren't so worried about lawsuits."
O'REILLY: Right. They won't produce it in the United States because of malpractice.
O'REILLY: If somebody gets a flu shot and then all of a sudden they have another year -- three years -- then they go after them, and people go, why am I gonna do that?
But Fauci says that medical liability is "only a very small part of the problem," according to an October 20 Associated Press article. "More significant, he said, are the low profit margins vaccines provide, unpredictable demand and the complexity of the manufacturing process," the AP reported. Fauci declined to mention medical liability during a seven-minute interview on the October 19 edition of FOX News Channel's Special Report with Brit Hume, though Hume asked him about the causes of the current shortage. According to his biography on the NIH website, "Dr. Fauci serves as one of the key advisors to the White House and Department of Health and Human Services on global AIDS issues, and on initiatives to bolster medical and public health preparedness against possible future bioterrorist attacks."
Similarly, Jim Young, president of MedImmune, Inc., which manufactures the intranasal vaccine FluMist, testified before the House Government Reform Committee that the lack of predictably high demand for the vaccine -- not the threat of legal liability -- posed the biggest deterrent to producing additional supplies, according to an October 19 report on National Public Radio's Morning Edition. In his prepared remarks, Young urged the federal government to raise demand by "universally recommend[ing]" flu vaccinations "for all Americans," which, he said, would "provide the impetus on the part of vaccine manufacturers to increase their production capacity."