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Understanding Legal Compensation for Vaccine Injuries

The names in the following blog have been changed for identity protection purposes.

Amy James wanted to get a vaccine because she had taken a job working in a day care facility. She got the flu shot from her family doctor during a routine visit. Within hours her legs were starting to get weak. As the day progressed she started falling down and eventually the weakness progressed to her entire body to the point where she could not perform simple functions such as feeding herself or going to the bathroom. By the end of the day she couldn’t walk.

By the time Amy came to our office, after a lengthy hospital stay, many of her symptoms had improved but she was still in a wheel chair and unable to take care of her young child. Most people who get vaccines have no serious problems. In rare cases the recipient suffers from severe allergic reactions which often times can be debilitating or result in death.

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“VICP”) was created by Congress in 1986 to compensate those injured by vaccines without litigation. This attempt at tort reform was the first acknowledgment by this organization that vaccine injuries and death are not a myth, but are real with catastrophic consequences for the lives of the vaccine injured and their families who care for them.

The United States Court of Federal Claims decides who will be paid. The VICP is located in the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The United States Department of Justice represents the agency before the VICP. You may file a claim if you have received a vaccine in the United States which is covered by the VICP and believe that you have been injured by this vaccine with symptoms of which have lasted more than six months after the vaccine was given; or 2) resulted in a hospital stay and surgery; or 3) resulted in death.

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund provides funding for the VICP to compensate vaccine related injuries or death claims for covered vaccines administered after 1986. The trust fund is funded by an excise tax on vaccines recommended by the CDC for routine administration such as the flu vaccine or the measles.

The VICP is an alternative to the tort system for resolving vaccine injury claims. The petitioner must first exhaust the remedies under the VICP before they can pursue a legal action against a vaccine administrator outside of the VICP. The petitioner must either withdraw their petition or reject the judgment under the VICP before pursuing a claim in state court.

Vaccine Safety FAQ – From Immunization.org

Does the thimerosal in some vaccines pose a risk?

Thimerosal, a very effective preservative, has been used to prevent bacterial contamination in vaccine vials for more than 50 years. It contains a type of mercury known as ethylmercury, which is different from the type of mercury found in fish and seafood (methylmercury). At very high levels, methylmercury can be toxic to people, especially to the neurological development of infants.

In recent years, several large scientific studies have determined that thimerosal in vaccines does not lead to neurologic problems, such as autism. Nonetheless, because we generally try to reduce people’s exposure to mercury if at all possible, vaccine manufacturers have voluntarily changed their production methods to produce vaccines that are now free of thimerosal or have only trace amounts. They have done this because it is possible to do, not because there was any evidence that the thimerosal was harmful.

Some parents are requesting that we space out their infant’s vaccinations because they are concerned that receiving multiple vaccinations at a single office visit might overwhelm the infant’s immune system.

What do you think about using alternative schedules?

Vaccine recommendations are determined after extensive studies in large clinical trials. They include studies on how vaccine recipients respond to multiple vaccines given simultaneously. The overall aim is to provide early protection for infants and children against vaccine-preventable diseases that could endanger their health and life. No scientific evidence exists to support that delaying vaccinations or separating them into individual antigens is beneficial for children.

Rather, this practice prolongs susceptibility to disease, which could result in a greater likelihood of the child becoming sick with a serious or life-threatening disease. There could also be added expense (e.g., multiple office visits), additional time off from work for parents, and increased likelihood that the child will fail to get all necessary vaccinations.

Where can I find more information to help address my patients’ concerns about vaccine safety?

There are many excellent websites that have information about vaccine safety, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC, Every Child by Two, the Immunization Action Coalition, the National Network for Immunization Information, the Institute of Medicine, and the Vaccine Education Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

To be prepared for how your child may feel after receiving immunizations, click here.