Headlines: February 24, 2011
by Meg Larkin
First, in legal news, a third judge has ruled that the health reform law is constitutional. Judge Gladys Kessler, a Clinton appointee sitting on the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that the enactment of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was within Congress’s regulatory powers under the Commerce Clause. This latest ruling means that three federal judges have ruled that the law is constitutional, and two have ruled that it is not. The three judges who voted to uphold the law were all appointed by Democrats, and the two who voted to strike it down were both appointed by Republicans. The issue of the health reform law’s constitutionality will most likely reach the Supreme Court in the coming months, and each lower court decision adds to the material the justices will have to consider.
In other legal news, the Supreme Court has ruled that a federal compensation scheme is the exclusive remedy for patients claiming to be injured by defective vaccines. The vote was 6:2 with Justice Scalia writing for the majority and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor dissenting. Justice Kagan recused herself because of her involvement with the case when she served as solicitor general. The issue in the case was whether a federal compensation scheme for individuals injured by vaccines pre-empted injury suits brought by patients under state law. The resolution of the case turned on the interpretation of the text of the statute creating the program. During the litigation, drug makers expressed concerns that if patients were allowed to sue in state court, vaccine manufacturers would be overwhelmed with cases claiming that their products had caused autism-related problems in children, a link that has been widely scientifically discredited. The dissenting justices expressed concern that making the federal program the exclusive remedy would disturb, “the careful balance Congress struck between compensating vaccine-injured children and stabilizing the childhood vaccine market.”
In public health news, the CDC has announced that there were 21,000 cases of whooping cough in the United States last year. The number of cases is the highest since 2005 and among the worst outbreaks in over fifty years. The highest number of cases occurred in California, which also reported the deaths of 10 infants from the disease. The vaccine for whooping cough (or pertussis) is generally highly effective in infants and children, but a vaccine for adolescents and adults was not licensed until 2005. Because whooping cough is highly contagious, the CDC is recommending vaccination for adults and adolescents who spend a lot of time around infants and children. In addition, the CDC modified its guidelines to clarify that all nurses and health care workers should be vaccinated.
Finally, in research news, new studies have shown that greater germ exposure can cut kids’ asthma risk. Kids who grow up on farms have a lower risk of developing asthma because of the greater variety of germs they are exposed to during their childhood. According to the Wall St. Journal, “the researchers surveyed and collected samples of house dust in two studies of children from South Germany, Austria and Switzerland. One study comprised 6,800 children, about half of whom lived on farms, and the other studied nearly 9,700 children, 16% of whom were raised on a farm. Researchers then examined the dust for presence and type of microbes.” The researchers are hopeful that this latest study will help them identify which types of bacteria contribute to the development of a healthy immune system. The research could be helpful in the development of treatments or vaccines in the future. This study differed from earlier research involving children raised on farms because it eliminated external factors associated with farm life, and looked only at differences in germ exposure.
Meg Larkin is a third year law student at Boston University. Please feel free to email her with any questions, comments, suggestions or concerns.