The Trump administration has asked federal agencies to pause regulation development efforts, to give it time to see which ones it likes, which ones it wants to change, and which ones it hates.
The executive order freezing the regulatory process lets Mick Mulvaney, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, make exceptions for emergency situations.
This seems like a perfectly reasonable thing for the administration to do. But I noticed today, while looking for articles to write about in the Federal Register, that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has had to withdraw a regulatory announcement related to the Zika virus.
A version of the document still available via Google shows that it’s a document that provides liability immunity for parties involved in efforts to develop a vaccine against Zika.
The document would block liability claims involving allegations of Zika-vaccine-related negligence, unless the manufacturer was guilty of willful misconduct.
Of course: Some people question whether the Zika virus really causes neurological problems in unborn children and adults, and some question the safety of many vaccination efforts.
If officials in the Trump administration question whether Zika is a serious public health threat or whether protecting Zika vaccine makers against liability lawsuits is a good idea: Then, of course, it’s right for them to go slow on approving such protection.
If the Trump administration had HHS withdraw the liability protection mainly because Obama administration officials drafted it: I hope Trump administration officials will give the declaration expedited review and consider giving it an exemption from the regulatory freeze.
Studies appear to show that the Zika virus can cause terrible problems in newborn babies, and temporary or even permanent paralysis in a small percentage of the adults who get it. I’ve seen in my own family that many pregnant women are now afraid of traveling to Florida because of Zika virus worries. In theory, if the Zika virus ever causes the kinds of problems in the United States that it’s seemed to cause in some other parts of the world, it could hurt thousands of developing babies, and possibly hurt hundreds of older children and adults, leading to an increase in medical, disability and catastrophic long-term care claim risk.
The idea that an effort to fight a frightening virus could fall between the Obama and Trump administration cracks is troubling. I hope the new administration will exempt that sort of effort from the regulatory freeze when possible.
I also hope that the administration will give any infectious-disease-related efforts that are blocked by the freeze quick emergency situation reviews, and publish an explanation when it believes freezing an effort related to an infectious disease is necessary, to make it clear that the freeze is due to more than an administrative delay.
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