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History of vaccine court

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Posted on January 16, 2019

Attorney Peter Beard of Holley, Rosen and Beard recently won an award of over $10 million in damages in federal “Vaccine Court” for a client.

Following is a history of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Vaccines have helped eradicate or control certain diseases in this country and around the world. However, it may be surprising for some to learn that vaccines can cause devastating and life-altering injuries which is something that the U.S. government, scientific community, pharmaceutical companies and people suffering from those injuries all acknowledge.

This is why Congress enacted the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in 1986 (NCVIA) which led to the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) or “Vaccine Court”. Prior to 1986, pharmaceutical companies did not have immunity or freedom from lawsuits. The NCVIA ensured that vaccine manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies would continue to make vaccines (after previously having to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in jury awards) by providing immunity from lawsuits.

However, vaccine safety clearly has been jeopardized due to the profit motive of pharmaceutical companies who do not have to account to the public or face liability in Court for their products.

Prior to the NCVIA, injured persons would file lawsuits against manufacturers and oftentimes win multimillion verdicts. This happened enough times that the manufacturers eventually, after being forced by the public to pay out hundreds of millions of dollars, told the U.S. Government that they were unable or unwilling to manufacture vaccines anymore. Rather than raise safety standards, this threat led to the enactment of the law.

Since 1986, with complete immunity, these billion-dollar companies have produced many new additional vaccines and have used preservatives containing mercury. These new vaccines have led to an increase in the number of vaccines on the vaccine schedule, with each new one added generating billions of dollars in profits.

What was 12 to 14 doses throughout childhood in the 1970’s has increased to 36 vaccines by age 6 today (with up to 5 shots often in a single visit). For example, the Hepatitis B vaccine, a disease primarily associated with intravenous drug use or sexual intercourse, is given immediately after birth with 4 shots given until the age of 18 months. Most people can now expect at least 55 doses of vaccines between birth and age 18.

However, vaccine reactions can in some cases range from mild fever, joint pain and swelling, to seizures, breathing problems, paralysis, brain damage and its sequelae, or death. The multi-million-dollar verdicts from the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, which were then a check by the public on safety, are long forgotten today.

Today, any discussion about vaccine safety has become the stuff of social media squabbles where there is often misunderstanding about whether vaccines can even cause serious injury. The message from safety advocates or awareness groups is often ignored, misunderstood, or vilified.

Four billion dollars has been paid out through “Vaccine Court” since its inception, but most people don’t even know it exists, nor is the public generally aware of the devastating injuries that have necessitated some of these payments.

It should be pointed out that the program is funded through an excise tax on each vaccine given, which is collected from the manufacturer, but in essence is passed on and paid by the public, which virtually removes any monetary check on manufacturers to promote safety.

While the system can work, it has limitations and an injured person can only receive up to $250,000.00 maximum in pain and suffering, even if the person suffers life-altering injuries at a young age. What is supposed to be a “no fault” program, in most cases it is difficult to meet the stringent requirements for a no-fault claim and can end up being heavily litigated with government lawyers “defending” the cases.

Because of the low pain and suffering caps versus the cost of proceeding in a contested case, (which often requires an expert in vaccine science), injured persons often don’t receive compensation.

While there is not enough space to discuss all of the successes or failures of the VICP, or to discuss the profit motive of pharmaceutical companies who operate with immunity and the effect it has had on safety (or the numerous conflicts of interest spread across the entire system), the point is that the devastating injuries occur, and they occur more often than the public is aware, as the billions of dollars paid out in what is still a little-known program demonstrates.

If you think you have had a serious reaction from a vaccine, you should note the onset of your symptoms or your child’s symptoms, and see a doctor immediately (who may or may not report it to the Federal Government under a mandatory reporting law). You can also review the VICP website for more information on Vaccine Court and how it operates, or consult an attorney licensed to practice in the Federal Court of Claims.