The Department of Health and Human Services said yesterday that it will hold up its proposal to put warning labels on aspirin until more research is conducted on the possible link between the drug and a sometimes fatal childhood disease called Reye's syndrome.
HHS Secretary Richard S. Schweiker said that additional studies are needed to resolve a "scientific dispute" over the dangers of aspirin use in children with chicken pox or flu.
Earlier, he had promised that the government would move ahead with a proposed warning label that was sent to the White House for approval in late September.
Schweiker said yesterday that he planned to go ahead with a public information campaign on "the need for caution" in giving children aspirin, and would formally solicit public comments on the warning label, but was persuaded to slow action because "concerns have been raised by an independent scientific body."
The executive board of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which represents doctors who care for children, urged the government last week to delay putting warning labels on aspirin until "more conclusive evidence of the association of aspirin administration and Reye's syndrome is shown by further investigation."
The group did say that it continues "to believe that there should be cautious use" of any fever-fighting drugs in the treatment of influenza or chicken pox, but it backed away from a stronger statement of concern issued last June by its committee on infectious diseases. That statement had said there is a "high probability" that aspirin is a contributing cause of Reye's syndrome.
Yesterday, two prominent members of the committee -- the current chairman, Dr. Vincent Fulginiti of the University of Arizona, and the past chairman, Dr. Edward Mortimer Jr., of Case Western Reserve University--submitted their resignations in protest over the new position.
Mortimer said was "distressed" that the board has "pulled the rug out from underneath so many people who have studied this issue so carefully. . . . I believe that their statement very sadly is a consequence of rather considerable direct and indirect pressure from the aspirin manufacturers."
The Health Research Group, a Ralph Nader-founded consumer group, also charged that "under the influence of the aspirin industry, the Reagan administration has taken a giant step backwards."
However, Dr. Joseph White of the Aspirin Foundation expressed satisfaction that the government was "going to go forward on a somewhat more reasonable basis and look to the design of a proper study." He suggested a cooperative study between the government and industry.