High court sides with vaccine makers

02.22.11 U.S. Supreme Court rules that parents can't sue manufacturers of immunizations over side effects from childhood shots.

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Parents can't sue drug firms when vaccines cause harm, according to a new ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court, USA Today reports. The 6-2 decision upholds the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which grants immunity to drug companies against certain lawsuits from injuries or deaths tied to vaccinations, the online article said. Instead, justices said people who claim vaccine-related injuries must go through a special no-fault federal vaccine court.

The case against drugmaker Wyeth started in Pennsylvania, filed by parents who allege that their daughter (now 19) started suffering seizures in 1992 at age 6 months after receiving the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTap) shot. According to the USA Today article, the high court affirmed the decision by lower courts that had previously thrown out the suit. In the lawsuit, the parents were suing on grounds that the drugmaker failed to update the vaccine with a newer and safer version.

In the majority opinion, the justices wrote that the "National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act preempts all design-defect claims against vaccine manufacturers." The two dissenters, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote that the decision "leaves a regulatory vacuum in which no one ensures that vaccine manufacturers adequately take account of scientific and technological advancements when designing and distributing their products."

Millions of infant vaccines are safely given each year throughout the United States. But the growing number of vaccines recommended for babies, mixed with concern over potentially negative reactions, has left many parents worried. Some are choosing to follow an alternative vaccination schedule that spaces out when children are immunized.

Most pediatricians follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and American Academy of Pediatrics' schedule of vaccines. In early 2010, the AAP made a few tweaks to the immunization schedule.

Whether you stick to the traditional timeline or scatter your baby's shots, immunizations still offer your baby the best chance at protection from infectious diseases.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.