In what's sure to be the first of many "victories" for the President, the Homeland Security bill has passed, with an amendment to strip a few odious favors to GOP benefactors being defeated on a mostly party-line vote, 52-47.
Three moderate Republicans - Snowe, Collins, and Chafee - voted for the bill after getting a promise from Trent Lott and Dennis Hastert that three of the provisions would be taken out next year, including one that would have protected pharmaceutical companies that have been sued over vaccines that have allegedly caused health problems. One of the issues concerns a vaccine for hepatitis B that contained a preservative called thimerosal, which is 50% by weight ethyl mercury. Studies have shown a link between such high levels of mercury and autism in children, though it has not been conclusively proven to be a cause. A couple of bloggers with autistic children have already written about this here, here, here, here, and here.
I understand that there are great costs in bringing a vaccine to the market. Indeed, the ratio of high cost of development and production to low return is why we're seeing a shortage of many vaccines such as flu vaccines. I understand that especially in times when fear of biological weapons is running high that we need to cut pharma companies a little slack. I certainly understand risk/reward ratios - I actually read every word of the disclaimer that I sign every year before I get my flu shot. And I have little regard for people who eschew vaccines because they don't or won't understand those ratios.
The issue here is not whether or not eeeevil corporations are profiting while children suffer. The issue is whether or not we insist on giving consumers full information and letting them make an informed decision. Dwight Meredith puts it best:
Regardless of the ultimate resolution of the issue of whether or not thimerosal causes autism, one aspect of this controversy is not subject to dispute. Our public health system gave mercury to 30,000,000 children in amounts that exceed EPA guidelines. It did so without calculating the amount of mercury being given. It did so without knowing the medical effects of giving that quantity of mercury. A public health system that behaves in that manner is broken. It needs to be fixed.