The Facts about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
Mar 16, 2020

As is the case with any medication, vaccines can have side effects. A serious side effect after vaccination is very rare, but if it does happen, a person can file a petition (also known as a claim) with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for compensation.

The VICP was created through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Act of 1986 to:

  • Make sure that people injured by vaccines are provided with fair and adequate compensation.
  • Make sure the U.S. has an adequate supply of vaccines and stable vaccine costs.

In June 2019, The New York Times published an examination of the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. As The New York Times pointed out, the VICP demonstrates that serious vaccine injuries are extremely rare.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the program — also referred to as the “vaccine court” — online, leading some people to make incorrect assumptions about the safety of vaccines based on VICP claims.

Below, we address some of the most common misconceptions about the VICP (vaccine court).

Has the vaccine court really paid out billions of dollars in compensation to people who claim to have been injured by vaccines?   

Fact: While the total dollar amount might seem high, it pales in comparison to the number of vaccine doses given.   

Since the VICP started on October 1, 1988 — over 31 years ago — billions of doses of vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of people in the U.S. However, only 21,636 claims have been filed with the VICP, and of those, 7,131 people have been compensated for harm they claimed was caused by vaccines. That means, on average, for every 1 million doses of vaccines that have been distributed in the U.S., 1 person is compensated by the VICP. And of the approximately $4.2 billion that has been given out over the life of the program, over $340 million has gone to lawyers’ fees alone.

But being awarded compensation by the VICP does not necessarily mean that the vaccine caused the alleged injury. In fact, most of the cases (70%) that have been compensated by the VICP have been settlements to avoid risk, time, and expense of taking legal action — not because evidence proved the vaccine caused the alleged injury.

Since 2017, about half of claims filed in the VICP are from adults claiming a shoulder injury after getting vaccinated. This condition is called Shoulder Injury Related to Vaccine Administration (SIRVA), which was added to the VICP’s vaccine injury table in March 2017.

Can vaccine manufacturers be sued?

Fact: Yes, vaccine manufacturers can be sued — but it’s a lot harder to win that way. 

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program was created as a no-fault alternative to the traditional tort system (civil court). A person who believes he has been injured by a vaccine (also known as a “petitioner”), first files his claim (petition) with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The claim is then passed on to the VICP.

A person claiming vaccine injury (petitioner) then has two opportunities to move his claim to a civil court:

  • The VICP’s judges, known as special masters, have 240 days from the date a claim is filed to issue a ruling. If they do not, the petitioner can choose to continue within the VICP or move their claim to civil court.
  • A petitioner has 30 days from the date a judgment is issued to accept the judgment, appeal, or file a civil action.

Most people who submit a vaccine injury claim decide to stay with the VICP because it was designed to require a lower burden of proof than a civil court.

Do taxpayers foot the bill for the VICP?

Fact: The VICP is funded by a small excise tax put on each dose of a vaccine.

This $0.75 excise tax is put on each dose of vaccine for every disease that it prevents. So, vaccines like HPV9 and flu are charged a single $0.75 tax because they each prevent against a single disease, and vaccines like MMR and DTaP are charged a $2.25 tax because each of the vaccines prevents against three separate diseases. One could argue that the manufacturer may increase the cost of the vaccine to cover the excise tax fees, but that is essentially the case with all products where an excise tax is imposed, including gas, airline tickets, and other goods and services.  Fortunately, the funds are kept in an account that can be used only for the VICP.

To learn more about the VICP, visit their website.

Have more questions about vaccine safety or efficacy? Check out our website with some of the most common questions we hear about vaccines.

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