As the number of childhood vaccinations continues to increase, vaccine related injuries and deaths rise proportionally. Many people are not aware that vaccine manufacturers as well as the medical professionals who administer them are not liable for damages, even when safer alternatives are known to exist. Instead, individuals or family members dealing with a vaccine related injury or fatality must file a claim through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). Since its beginning in 1988, VICP has paid out nearly $3 billion in vaccine related settlements, despite its low profile and relative obscurity among the general public.
The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) was originally intended as a public resource and source of support for those seeking additional information before determining whether the benefits of vaccination outweigh their risks in each particular situation. Some parents and individuals may feel stigmatized when presented with the possibility of filing a report or claim for a vaccine related injury or death, in part due to one-sided informational sources that fail to mention the associated risks inherent with all vaccines. Although approximately 30,000 incidents are reported to VAERS each year, experts estimate that this figure represents a mere ten percent of the true number of reactions. Doctors have been known to receive "kickbacks" from pharmaceutical companies in exchange for the promotion of their products, including vaccinations. This, coupled with pressure from public health officials, serves as general discouragement for the reporting of suspected vaccine related adverse events. Non-medical professionals may also report directly to VAERS; this is not, however, widely known.
VAERS lists over 8000 potential adverse reactions associated with vaccinations. While not all reactions will qualify an individual for compensation under the VICP, it is important to be aware of the physical conditions which may indicate the occurrence of a severe adverse reaction. Timing is critical; although not a complete list, any of the following symptoms beginning a few minutes to a few weeks after receiving a vaccine are cause for concern:
Once the initial reactions subside, the victim may be diagnosed with any number of serious long term disorders, including but not limited to:
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS);
Transverse Myelitis (TM);
Before deciding whether or not to move forward with vaccination, parents and individuals are encouraged to ask themselves important questions to determine if they are at an increased risk of an adverse reaction. Reading the package insert in its entirety is often quite revealing; manufacturers may state that individuals who are currently ill are at increased risk. Additional factors, such as a previous adverse reaction to any vaccination (either personally or involving a family member), as well as known allergies, reduced immune function or the presence of any neurological disorder, also increase the risks.
In 2011, vaccine manufacturers presented a statement to the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledging that all vaccines are "unavoidably unsafe" as a means of encouraging the court system to increase federal protection over vaccination liability. The court system agreed to the vaccine manufacturers' requests, thereby making VICP the "sole remedy" for vaccine injury or death related claims (before 2011, victims could still pursue claims against vaccine manufacturers in certain situations). Funding for the VICP payouts are paid for by public taxes on each vaccine, essentially placing manufacturers in a position of near zero liability.
While the VICP system was originally intended to streamline the process of filing for and receiving compensation after a vaccination related injury or death, a mere seven percent of the nearly 8000 claims filed between 1988 and 2012 were completed within the stated 240 day target. Instead, cases have been known to drag on for years, sometimes leaving victims in financial straits when a vaccine induced disability prevents them from working and/or caring for their family. One of the most significant factors involved with timely processing is the prompt consultation of a legal professional who is highly experienced in assisting those who have been harmed by a vaccination. The VICP program provides additional compensation to cover legal expenses, even if claims are not approved. As a result, there is a tremendous advantage to seeking legal counsel before proceeding with a claim independently.
When filing a claim through VICP, meticulous information including the date and location a vaccine was given along with the lot number and vaccine manufacturer's name should be provided. Specific symptoms, as well as the precise timing of their onset and their overall duration, should be documented by a medical professional; said such documentation should then be included with the claim. Claims are not filed in a local courthouse but rather are sent directly to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. Considering the complicated and controversial nature of these issues, working with a qualified attorney is highly recommended.