Thursday June 27, 2013

To the editor of THE EAGLE:

As a practicing physician for the past 38 years, I know how important seasonal flu vaccinations are to the public at large. Just last year there were 28,000 confirmed cases of influenza in Massachusetts alone. I also know each year pharmaceutical companies are improving and expanding the effectiveness of those vaccines. Indeed, some new vaccines can actually counter up to four different strains of influenza. However, there was a problem: Under existing law, companies manufacturing those vaccines wouldn’t be protected from vaccine-injury lawsuits because those laws only applied to three-strain vaccines, i.e., those covering just three strains of influenza.

Too many, I’m sure, this seems a trivial, even silly, impediment to bringing the latest and most effective vaccines to the public, but unless Congress fixed the law, it would do just that. Fortunately, our own congresman, Richie Neal, saw the danger and, working with Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Jim Gerlach, was able to pass a bill (H.R. 475) to update the law on June 19.

I should point out that this legislation in no way alters the FDA approval. Vaccines for children, adolescents, and adults will still be approved and recommended through a rigorous, multi-year process. Vaccines must be approved first by the FDA and then must also be evaluated and formally recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention before they are administered by health care providers or covered by health insurance plans.

Rep. Neal’s bill had the support of AARP, Every Child by Two, Families Fighting Flu, Immunization Action Coalition, Infectious Diseases Society of America, MassBio -- and this physician.

STANLEY M. SHAPSHAY, M.D.

Richmond