It’s not uncommon for some people to react badly to a vaccine. In most instances these reactions are mild and the side effects transient. In other, more rare cases however, the effects of a vaccine can be debilitating, life altering or even fatal. Within the US this risk of injury is broadly acknowledged and provision has been made to compensate patients outside of the traditional legal system.
Why we react to vaccines
Almost every medication that is dispensed has side effects that affect a very small percentage of people. This include OTC medications, but typically, the severity of reported and known side-effects tend to increase with the scheduling guidelines of a drug. The stricter the controls, the more severe the potential side effects become.
Its not a hard a fast rule and even the common aspirin can potentially kill you, if you develop an allergic reaction. Vaccines are no exception, apart from one fundamental difference. We all get vaccinated. Many of us will never be exposed to cancer drugs, anti-depressants or experimental retro-virals to combat HIV and other diseases.
We won’t need these medications as most will not develop the related diseases or conditions. Vaccines however are different. They are administered to everyone to prevent rather than treat disease and therein lies the moral dilemma faced by an industry whose raison d’être is “First do no harm”. Because of this increased exposure to a wider demographic, vaccines are more rigorously tested than any other drug and can take years to reach the marketplace.
Notwithstanding, the resultant side effects for those of us who are unfortunate enough to react to a vaccine can be debilitating. Anti-vaxers would have you believe this is reason enough to avoid having yourself or your children vaccinated.
Nothing could be further from the truth, and it is because of vaccines that we have successfully eradicated diseases like polio and smallpox. To fully and adequately protect our children against a myriad of childhood diseases, we accept this minuscule risk and vaccinate.
Sometimes, unavoidably and unfortunately, vaccination goes wrong. It isn’t however just children that bear the brunt. Teenagers and adults of all ages run a risk and can and do fall ill, or develop diseases from the administration of a vaccine. Exact figures are hard to come by as some instances are incorrectly diagnosed or direct causality is too tentative to ascribe with any degree of certainty.
Seeking redress for injury or death
Individuals within the borders and territories of the U.S. are able to seek compensation in one of two ways.
- A lawsuit, which can be filed directly against the pharmaceutical manufacturer of a vaccine. This is a costly process that will require the ‘victim’ to meet legal costs, costs which may or may not be recovered as part of an agreed settlement or order of the courts. In certain instances, where others have experienced similar side effects, an existing ruling may offer relief, or a victim may join a class action brought on behalf of a group of patients who have suffered similar side effects.
- In the U.S. however, a unique fund exists, created in 1986 and referred to by its acronym, the NVICP, that offers alternative relief.
Who is the NVICP?
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) is a no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system that allows for vaccine-injured petitioners to seek compensation when certain circumstances have been met.
The initial goals of the Vaccine Program were to:
- Ensure adequate supply of vaccines; and
- Compensate individuals injured by vaccines.
The Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund provides funding for the program, sourced from a $.75 excise tax imposed on each dose of those vaccines listed within the Vaccine Injury Table.
As part of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, the NVICP was created in response to civil lawsuits filed against healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers, which resulted in manufacturers incurring significant financial liability. With the implementation of the NVICP, both vaccine manufacturers and private individuals are considered. The Program promotes public health interests while remaining prepared for negative outcomes in individual cases.
Which vaccines do the NVICP cover?
The Health Resources and Services Administration keeps an up to date list of vaccines covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The most recent list (revised March 21, 2017) can be found here.
- Diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus (DTP, DTaP, Tdap, DT, Td, or TT)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Hepatitis A (HAV)
- Hepatitis B (HBV)
- Seasonal Influenza (Flu) Vaccine
- Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR, MR, M, R)
- Meningococcal (conjugate & polysaccharide) (MCV4, MPSV4)
- Polio (IPV, OPV)
- Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV)
- Rotovirus (RV)
- Varicella (VZV)
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Any combination of above vaccines
Who can file in the NVICP?
Anyone can file a petition in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, regardless of age or citizenship status, as long as the effects of the injury (1) lasted for more than 6 months after the vaccination, (2) resulted in inpatient hospitalization and surgical intervention while hospitalized, or (3) resulted in death.
You may file a petition if:
- You received a covered vaccine and believe you have been injured as a result of this vaccination;
- You are the parent or legal guardian of a child or disabled adult whom you believe has been injured by a covered vaccine;
- You are the legal representative of the estate of a deceased person who you believe was injured by a covered vaccine and/or whose death you believe was a result of the covered vaccine.
The covered vaccine must have been administered in the United States or its territories unless:
- The person who received the vaccine was, at the time of treatment, serving abroad as a member of the Armed Forces or as an U.S. Government employee, or is the dependent of such a citizen; or
- The vaccine was manufactured in the United States and the person filing the petition returned to the United States within 6 months of the date of vaccination.
How do I file?
In cases of injury, petitions must be filed within 3 years of the first symptom or manifestation of the injury. In cases involving death, petitions must be filed within 2 years of death and within 4 years of the first symptom in cases where death resulted from the injury.
In cases where a vaccine was added to the table of covered vaccinations, petitions must be filed within 2 years of the date of the table change, and injuries or death must have occurred within the 8 years prior to the table change. In order to petition for compensation through the NVICP, you must file a petition with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
Because this is a legal process, many petitioners retain an attorney to assist them in this process.
How much will it cost?
Unlike traditional legal cases, petitioners who file claims in the NVICP do not pay any legal fees. Attorneys’ fees and costs can be paid by the NVICP, not the injured petitioners. Just as the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund is used to compensate those who suffer from vaccine-related injuries or death, these funds may be used to compensate legal counsel representing petitioners.
The process of selecting an attorney is also fraught with pitfalls and when in doubt, always look to larger established firms for safe and ethical representation. The firm Conway Homer, P.C. is the most experienced vaccine injury law firm in the United States. They represent clients from all 50 states and have advocated for landmark cases that have shaped the Vaccine Program.