AFTER FOUR YEARS of debate and compromise between parents' groups, physicians and pharmaceutical manufacturers, the last act of the 99th Congress was to pass legislation tocreate a no-fault compensation scheme to deal with vaccine injuries.
The action recognized that, because of new interpretations of product liability, jury awards to victims and insurance premiums had skyrocketed and all but two or three pharmaceutical companies had quit making vaccines.President Reagan signed the bill last week, still expressing reservations about establishing a no-fault remedy that some in the administration fear might be used as a model for a future program to compensate victims of Agent Orange or nuclear radiation.
There is still one missing link. Before the provisions begin to aid
families with injured children, Congress must create, and the president must sign, a measure imposing a per-dose excise tax to fund the program.
The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to this approach, noting that the tax is not likely to raise the price of vaccines or affect the manufacturers' bottom line.
Merck & Co., the sole supplier in the United States of the vaccine to prevent measles, mumps and rubella, wrote Attorney General Edwin Meese last month pledging support for excise tax legislation to create a fund that would not require appropriations from general revenues.
House Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, D-Ill., has pledged to make the tax legislation a priority in the new Congress.
What is needed is administration assurance that it will give its full backing to these efforts. To try to kill this program through the back door by stymieing attempts to create the excise tax would be a vast disservice to the children, the companies, the physicians and the insurers who have indicated a willingness to get back into the business of insuring manufacturers of these vaccines if the program goes forward.