SACRAMENTO — A bill designed to speed up development and production of an AIDS vaccine was stripped Thursday of a key provision that would have limited the liability of any company authorized to market such a vaccine.
By a vote of 4 to 0, the Senate Appropriations Committee removed a provision that would have made the state ultimately responsible for injuries to people caused by a vaccine.
"It effectively guts the bill," Assemblyman John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara), author of the measure, told reporters.
Sen. Daniel E. Boatwright (D-Concord), chairman of the committee, said the panel removed the liability provision because of potentially huge costs to the state.
"I do not believe the state should be a guarantor and be in the insurance business for private industry," Boatwright told reporters. "It could literally cost the state hundreds of millions of dollars and I guess, theoretically, if this thing (vaccine) is that bad, it could bankrupt us or call for tremendous tax increases."
Subsidize Clinical Tests
Boatwright said that manufacturers of a vaccine should buy insurance, just as other companies do in businesses that are hazardous.
The committee also eliminated a section of the bill that would have required the state to spend as much as $20 million to buy up to 1 million doses of vaccine if they go unsold.
As it stands now, the bill would provide $6 million to subsidize clinical tests of possible vaccines on humans. The bill was approved and sent to the Senate by a vote of 7 to 0.
Supporters of the bill included Genentech Inc. and Chiron Corp., two Northern California companies that are working to develop a vaccine and would likely have benefited from the legislation.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome is a fatal disease, and developing a vaccine against it is a top public health priority nationwide. Research companies are hesitant to produce a vaccine unless they are assured in advance of protection against liability if the product causes injury.
Earlier this week, Gov. George Deukmejian said he looked favorably upon the bill in its unamended form.
Vasconcellos said providing state liability was the most important part of the bill and that he would seek to restore it before the Legislature adjourns next week.