Two drug companies are facing charges in France over a hepatitis B vaccine blamed for the death of a 28-year-old woman in 1998 and which caused serious side effects among 1,300 patients.
Smithkline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline GSK, and Pasteur Merieux MSD-Aventis Pasteur, now Sanofi Pasteur MSD, are accused of aggravated deceit for failing to disclose the possible side effects from the vaccine, justice officials said Thursday.
Pasteur MSD is also charged with involuntary homicide in the 1998 death of Nathalie Desainquentin, who allegedly contracted multiple sclerosis from the vaccine.
More than 20 million French people were vaccinated against hepatitis B from 1994 to 1998.
Lawyer Bernard Fau representing Desainquentin's family and other victims expressed satisfaction with the decision to press charges, saying "this supports our theory that the recommended use of the vaccination was not in line with the real risks".
France's former rightwing government had launched a national vaccination campaign against hepatitis B, which can infect the liver, in 1994 and suspended it in 1998 after several lawsuits were lodged.
A total of 29 victims have filed suit including five who claim the vaccine caused the death of a family member.
In 2005, a court threw out a suit for endangering lives against former health ministers Jean-Francois Mattei, Bernard Kouchner and Philippe Douste-Blazy over the vaccination campaign.
GSK and Pasteur MSD have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.