U.S. to Supervise Delivery
Of Remaining Flu Vaccine
The federal government will supervise the distribution of flu vaccine stocks that have not yet been shipped, health officials said, adding that they have already diverted about 4 million doses to areas with the greatest need.
The announcement came a week after officials said they learned that half the nation's expected vaccine supply for the coming winter will not be available because British regulators had found manufacturing problems at the Liverpool plant of Chiron Corp., one of the two U.S. suppliers. The only other supplier, Aventis Pasteur, has produced 55.4 million doses, but nearly two-thirds of that supply has already been distributed, company officials said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have urged that only individuals in designated high-risk groups, totaling nearly 100 million people, seek the vaccine, but the sudden shortage has left some health facilities with no vaccine at all.
The volume of Aventis Pasteur stocks that has been administered is not known. Officials hope to redirect the remainder of the supply so that all states would receive at least half the amount they need for high-risk individuals, who include adults 65 and older, children 6 months to 23 months old and anyone with a chronic medical condition.
High priority is being given to Veterans Administration facilities, the Defense Department and people in long-term care facilities.
-- Shankar Vedantam
For First Time in Years, Senate
Approves Corporate Tax Bill
The Senate gave final approval to the most significant corporate tax legislation in nearly 20 years, sending President Bush a 650-page measure that would reduce taxes for domestic manufacturers, builders and even Hollywood studios, and would hand out scores of tax breaks for interest groups ranging from tackle box makers to Native Alaskan whaling captains.
The 69 to 17 vote belied the acrimony underlying the measure, which includes $143 billion in tax breaks over 10 years, offset by loophole closures and other revenue raisers. The House passed it Oct. 7, 280 to 141, and White House aides say Bush will sign it into law, despite strong criticism leveled last week by Treasury Secretary John W. Snow.
Public health groups were infuriated that a $10 billion buyout for tobacco farmers was included without a provision to grant the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate cigarettes. Charitable organizations protested a revenue-raising measure that would greatly reduce the value of automobiles donated to charities.
Proponents hailed the tax bill as a job-creation measure that would simplify the nation's tax laws for multinational corporations, address long-festering grievances and clamp down on loopholes, such as one that allows companies to escape taxation by reincorporating at a post office box in an offshore tax haven. But critics decried what they saw as a cornucopia of special-interest tax cuts that would complicate the tax code, favor companies doing business overseas and worsen the budget deficit.
-- Jonathan Weisman
Fox TV Stations Hit With
$1.2 Million Indecency Fine
The Federal Communications Commission proposed a record-setting $1.2 million fine against 169 Fox television stations for an April 2003 broadcast of "Married by America" that featured whipped-cream-covered strippers and digitally obscured nudity.
Complaints to the FCC are at an all-time high as viewers and lawmakers object to the increasing raunchiness of over-the-air radio and television, and broadcasters compete to keep pace with edgier cable programming.
Tuesday's action against Fox and its affiliates was the largest for indecency on television. It was the first of several expected indecency rulings, including what is likely to be a multimillion-dollar agreement with Viacom Inc.'s radio stations to settle violations by Howard Stern and others.
The FCC regulates radio and television broadcasts that transmit over the free public airwaves but it has no authority over cable and satellite programming for which viewers pay. Stern has announced that he will move to satellite radio when his contract is up, in part to escape FCC scrutiny.
-- Frank Ahrens and Lisa de Moraes
Two Professors Share
Nobel for Economics
American Edward C. Prescott, a senior monetary adviser at the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis and a professor at Arizona State University, and Finn E. Kydland, a Norwegian-born professor at Carnegie Mellon University, won the Nobel Prize in economics for their work on the forces behind economic booms and busts.
Prescott and Kydland collaborated on two key papers, published in 1977 and 1982, that focused on closely related issues. One was on the causes of "business cycles," or the economy's growth over time through a succession of expansions, recessions and recoveries. They showed how these cycles result from the collective decisions of consumers, businesses and economic policymakers, as well as advances in technology.
The second focused on the design of economic policy -- specifically the crafting of monetary policy to control inflation and influence economic growth through raising and lowering interest rates, and the shaping of fiscal policy to affect growth through federal government tax and spending decisions.
-- Nell Henderson
Justices to Hear Cases
On Ten Commandments
The Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases involving the display of the Ten Commandments on government property, setting the stage for rulings on an issue that has divided the public and the lower courts for more than two decades.
The court said it will review a federal appeals court ruling that upheld a six-foot-tall monument to the commandments on the grounds of the Texas state capitol in Austin, plus another ruling that barred an exhibition of the commandments with other historical documents in a Kentucky courthouse.
The court last addressed the subject in 1980, when it struck down, 5 to 4, a Kentucky law that required the posting of the commandments in public school classrooms. The court ruled that the law had "no secular legislative purpose."
-- Charles Lane
N.C. Insurer Expands
Coverage for Obesity
North Carolina's largest health insurance company announced it is offering more than 1 million of its members the most comprehensive package of benefits ever provided to prevent and treat weight problems.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina will begin paying for four visits to a doctor every year specifically to assess a patient's weight and provide treatment if necessary, nutritional counseling sessions with dietitians to help people stay thin or shed pounds, and two prescription diet drugs for those already overweight. Contrary to industry trends, the company will also continue covering stomach surgery for the obese.
The decision was hailed by anti-obesity advocates as a step that would enable patients and doctors to take a more active role in preventing people from becoming overweight in the first place and treating them if they do.
More than two-thirds of Americans are overweight, including about one-third who are obese.
The insurer is the first to significantly expand coverage for weight treatment since Medicare announced this summer that it was dropping a long-standing policy that obesity was not a disease.
-- Rob Stein