By Dr. Richard Rupp and Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D.
My brother-in-law is really on me for vaccinating my two boys. He is one of those who believe vaccines are part of a corporate-government conspiracy driven by profits.
I can easily refute most of his arguments except for one. He states the government will not allow families to sue vaccine companies proving vaccines harm a large number of children. How should I respond to him?
It is sad that something as well-meaning as the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program can be used as an argument against vaccination.
The program is a no-fault alternative to the traditional legal process for resolving vaccine injury claims. It provides compensation to people injured by vaccination.
There were major problems before the NVICP was established. Juries frequently awarded large cash settlements for injuries claimed by parents to have been caused by vaccination.
Juries reacted to the heart-wrenching stories of children purportedly devastated by vaccines. Juries regularly ignored the science and the existence of alternative causes.
Vaccine manufacturers could not afford the costs of legal fees and large settlements; and as a result, many stopped producing vaccines. This resulted in vaccine shortages.
In response, Congress established the program in 1988 to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs and provide help for individuals injured by vaccination. Congress recognized the important role vaccines play in public health and at the same time wanted to safeguard care for injured individuals.
A family that feels they have suffered a vaccine-related injury can file a claim. Typically, the NVICP pays the family’s lawyer’s fees and other legal costs.
A special master reviews the case and decides if the claim will be paid and how much will be paid. A special master is a lawyer appointed by the judges of the Court of Federal Claims.
Families are paid a reasonable amount for past and future medical, custodial care and rehabilitation costs. They also can receive lost earnings and up to $250,000 for pain and suffering.
The money comes from the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund subsidized by a tax on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-recommended vaccines.
From 1988 through March, there have been 15,100 claims. Of the claims filed, 3,540 have been compensated and 9,734 dismissed.
On average, it takes two to three years to settle a claim. The program has paid out almost $2.7 billion and $186 million in attorney’s fees and legal costs.
Sixty-one million dollars of the legal costs were paid out for cases that were eventually dismissed.
That may seem like a lot of claims, but it isn’t. More than 1.9 billion doses of vaccines were distributed in the United States from 2006 through 2012.
Only 2,363 claims were filed during the same period. These numbers really illustrate the safety of vaccines.
Families must go through the NVICP first. If the family rejects the special master’s decision, they can appeal to a judge of the court. They can appeal all the way to the United States Supreme Court if they choose.
Please share this column with your brother-in-law. The NVICP is a well-designed program that protects public health while providing care and compensation for individuals who might be injured by vaccines.
Keep in mind that vaccine injuries are very rare, while harms from vaccine-preventable diseases are not. The benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks.
Dr. Richard Rupp is a pediatrician and member of UTMB’s Sealy Center for Vaccine Development. Bridget Hawkins, Ph.D. is the assistant director of the SCVD. This column is supported by a UTMB President’s Cabinet Award to provide information about vaccines. Visit www.utmb.edu/scvd/vaccinesmarts or like us on Facebook.