Frist Himself Said Anthrax Vaccine Was Problematic
Santa Monica, CA — Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is seeking a last-minute amendment to an appropriations bill that would remove legal liability from a drug company if the Bush Administration declares its vaccines are needed to respond to a public health threat. The Associated Press reports Frist is behind the eleventh-hour change.
The pharmaceutical industry that makes the vaccines was the largest industry donor to Frist’s National Republican Senatorial Committee, the political arm of Senate Republicans that was key to winning a GOP majority in the Senate. The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights (FTCR) called on Frist to withdraw the amendment based on his own conflict of interest — the industry he is helping is his biggest donor, and he has himself condemned the safety of the anthrax vaccine.
“How can we trust an administration that does not know what a weapon of mass destruction is to take away our legal rights when it sees a so-called public health threat?” said Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. “This is a total giveaway to the GOP’s biggest donor using national security as cover. It’s a terror dividend for Big Pharma, which handed Senator Frist and the GOP the third branch of government.”
Under the legislation the Frist amendment is based on, the Bush Administration could declare a real or potential public health emergency, classify any vaccine or product as necessary to respond to a public health threat and provide its manufacturer almost virtual immunity from prosecution. The immunity provisions are so broad that any product that can be considered a “countermeasure,” not just vaccines, would be included under its protection.
Frist himself has acknowledged problems with the anthrax vaccine: “The [anthrax] vaccine is a dated vaccine, it’s an old vaccine. There are very real and potentially serious side effects from the vaccine and anyone who elects to receive the vaccine needs to be made aware of that.”
“I do not recommend widespread inoculation for people with the vaccine in the Hart Building,” Frist said. “There are too many side effects and if there is limited chance of exposure the side effects would far outweigh any potential advantage.” (CNN.com, 12/20/01, http://archives.cnn.com/2001/US/12/18/anthrax/)
After a secret attempt to provide liability protection for the makers of Thimerosal in 2002 under the cover of an amendment to Homeland Security legislation, Congressional leaders are again promoting sweeping protections for the drug industry while no one is looking. Frist denied involvement in the Thimerosol amendment in 2002 but the backlash forced the Senate to remove the immunity provision. The 2002 amendment was based on parallel legislation Frist carried.
Frist’s blind trust listed personal investments with Abbot Labs and Johnson & Johnson, each in the $15,000 to $50,000 range, through 2004. Frist himself had a close relationship with Eli Lilly, maker of Thimerosal, which not only topped the list of drug maker contributors to the Senator’s PAC but also bought 5,000 copies of Frist’s book on bio-terrorrism.
FTCR filed an ethics complaint with the Senate Select Ethics Committee last April charging Senate Majority Leader Frist (R-TN) with a conflict of interest for promoting medical malpractice liability limits while retaining stock worth millions in HCA. The Frist family-founded hospital chain owns HCI, the nation’s fourth largest malpractice insurer. The committee dismissed the complaint, ruling that Frist’s millions did not constitute a conflict. The Senator sold the stock this summer just before the stock price plummeted and is under investigation by the SEC for possible insider trading.