Parents rallied at the Capitol on Wednesday against a law that protects vaccine makers, and Democrats promised to fight to repeal the measure.
The vaccine provision was attached to a bill creating a new Homeland Security Department, which President Bush signed into law in November.
The Republican-backed provision essentially shields vaccine makers from lawsuits concerning the use of the compound Thimerosal by requiring that claims go through a special federal program that pays limited damages for vaccine-related injuries, rather than through courts.
Thimerosal is a mercury-containing preservative once added to some childhood vaccines. Indianapolis, Ind.-based Eli Lilly, a major Republican Party contributor, was the biggest manufacturer of Thimerosal.
A spokesman for Eli Lilly, Ed Sagebiel, said the company had lobbied for the measure earlier but had no role in its placement in the homeland security bill. But Sagebiel added, “It’s something we support now. We think it’s good public policy.”
Medical research has not established a link between autism and Thimerosal, but many parents believe the ingredient may be to blame. Scores of parents have filed lawsuits that claim that Thimerosal caused their children to develop autism or related nerve diseases.
Many of those parents on Wednesday held signs that said “Homeland Security Took Our Rights” and “Vaccine Injured.” They accused Congress of stripping them of their rights.
“It’s injustice at its worst,” said Teri Small of Wilmington, Del., whose 4-year-old son was diagnosed with severe autism. “These are vulnerable, defenseless children who have been harmed irreparably.”
Trish Desgroseilliers of Landenberg, Pa., said when she heard of the new law, “I was sad to think that our government is not protecting these children and that there are things going on behind closed doors that us as Americans are not privy to.”
Several Democrats have already introduced legislation to repeal the measure.
Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., called the measure “government and politics at its worst.”
“Shame on the Congress and the administration for allowing it to happen,” Stabenow said.