Vaccine Court

(AP)
Most Americans have probably never heard of it, but there is a special federal court that was set up to compensate victims and their families for vaccine injuries. This "vaccine court" has been functioning since 1988. Its genesis can be found on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention government Web page, National Vaccine Program Office.

In summary, in the early 1980's, there were so many claims of injuries from DTP vaccine (which has since been replaced with what officials believe is a safer version of the vaccine: DTaP), that vaccine makers told Congress they wouldn't be able to produce vaccines unless they were protected from liability. Members of Congress and public health officials worried that unless vaccine makers were somehow protected, they would stop producing vaccines and the public health would be threatened. The result was vaccine court. The concept was put together with help from government, vaccine makers and the public. Victims can receive compensation in a streamlined process. Vaccine makers don't have to bear the cost. Instead, damages are paid by the public through a 75-cent tax we pay on each dose of vaccine administered. All sides in the controversies over vaccine safety would probably agree that vaccine court isn't perfect, but despite some of its flaws, it is generally widely praised.

Unfortunately, vaccine court is little-known. It's believed only a small fraction of the total number of claims ever makes its way to this court. In my reporting, I often ask families who believe their children were injured by vaccines whether they've filed a claim in vaccine court. None of them had ever heard of this court. Several said something like, "How would we ever have time to pursue such a thing? We're spending all our time trying to care for our injured child."

Nonetheless, the cases that do make it to vaccine court have the potential to provide valuable information as to possible trends that could be happening in the public at large. More than a billion dollars has been paid out to vaccine victims since the court opened its doors in Washington D.C. back in 1988. Statistics regarding the number of claims filed, won, and denied broken down by vaccine type can be found here. Be aware that the raw numbers aren't particularly reflective of much since so few cases make their way to vaccine court.

The following information is from Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA):

"For nearly 20 years, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) has provided children and families compassionate, generous, and timely compensation in rare instances of vaccine injury.

The program allows injured individuals to seek compensation in a special court without cost to them. Certain injuries are presumed to have been caused or aggravated by the vaccine, and are on a table of injuries. If the injury is found to be consistent with a table injury without sufficient evidence of another cause, the family would be compensated. Injury cases not included on the current table also can be compensated if there is sufficient proof that they were caused by the vaccine.

Since the program began, 2,100 families and individuals have received compensation."