Senate repeals vaccine testing requirement

The U.S. Senate on Sunday revived the Obama-era requirement for vaccines made by big pharmaceutical companies. That happened after the court ruled in a case decided by Republican Justice Anthony Kennedy on Friday that the requirement to test vaccines before they’re on the market was unconstitutional because it exceeded the power of the Food and Drug Administration.

Democrats — particularly some liberal ones — had decried Kennedy’s decision, saying it cleared the way for further weakening of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, according to CNN Money. In the past week or so, it seemed the court had taken the opposite approach, with a hearing on two other federal cases regarding vaccine science.

“If health authorities want to put vaccines on the market without safety testing first, the federal government should allow that. We don’t think the courts should be involved,” said Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley of Oregon, a primary bill sponsor of the legislation.

But Kennedy’s decision in the first case, Taylor v. Florida Association of Life Underwriters, was heavily backed by the pharmaceutical industry, and some thought it signaled a willingness to revisit the mandate in other areas — such as, perhaps, the hotly contested issue of vaccines for autism.

After the decision, Vermont Sens. Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, both Democrats, wrote in a joint statement: “Millions of Americans will now have greater access to vaccines for their families and friends, and Vermont, a state where access to these life-saving products is already made available to the many who need them, will continue to lead the way on the fundamental health care needs of all Vermonters.”

But the wording of Kennedy’s decision makes that ambiguous. For example, Kennedy wrote that there’s no “permanent or enduring economic benefit to the State,” but “while no benefit is created in perpetuity, it would be difficult to point to a procedural or substantive hurdle that inevitably or permanently prevents the state from changing the law to enable this long-term economic benefit.”

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