In the 1980's, in response to the rising number of lawsuits filed against healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers based on injuries and deaths attributed to vaccines, a number of vaccine manufacturers decided to discontinue manufacturing vaccines. Congress responded by passing the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, aimed at stabilizing U.S. vaccine supplies while also preserving vaccine companies' assets for research into safer vaccines.
The Act also established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) to compensate victims or families of victims injured by certain childhood vaccines. The VICP, funded by a 75 cent tax on each vaccination given, is a "no fault" system designed to compensate the injured while protecting healthcare providers and vaccine manufacturers from lawsuits.
The VICP is jointly administered by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ).
What Vaccines are Covered by the VICP?
The VICP compensates for certain injuries or death thought to be the result of a covered vaccine.
The following vaccines are covered by the VICP:
- Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (DTP, DTaP, Tdap, DT, TT or Td)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Hepatitis A
- Hepatitis B
- Human papillomavirus (HPV)
- Influenza (TIV, LAIV)
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR, MR, M or R)
- Meningococcal disease (MCV4, MPSV4)
- Polio (OPV or IPV)
- Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV)
- Rotavirus (RV)
- Varicella (VZV)
- Any combination of the included vaccines
- Additional vaccines added in the future
Who is Eligible to File a Claim?
Under the VICP, an individual or a parent or guardian of an individual injured by a covered vaccine, or the legal representative of the estate of a person who may have been killed by a vaccine, may file a claim, called a petition, for compensation.
To file a claim, the person's injury must meet the following criteria:
- Lasted for more than six months after receiving the vaccine or
- Required hospitalization and surgery or
- Resulted in death
Claims must be made to the VICP within three years of the onset of symptoms for an injury victim. The family of a vaccine victim must file a claim within two years after the victim's death and four years after the first symptoms appear.
What Does the Filing Process Entail?
The petition includes details about the injury, and should be accompanied by the person's medical records. Claimants should hire a lawyer to assist them with the process because the VICP will reimburse claimants for attorney's fees and other legal costs associated with making a claim.
After receiving the petition, representatives from HHS and DOJ review the claim to determine whether compensation is warranted. The case is then presented to an attorney appointed by the court called a "special master." The special master determines whether to pay the claim, and how much to pay. An appeal of the special master's decision can be made to the U.S. Court of Federal Claims as well as to an appellate court.
Victims or their families can receive money under the VICP by proving that:
- An injury or condition on the VICP's Vaccine Injury Table occurred, and
- The first symptoms occurred within the specified time period or
- A covered vaccine caused the injury or condition or
- The vaccine made an existing condition or injury to significantly worse
Awards for a vaccine-related death are limited to $250,000, plus attorney's fees and costs. According to the HHS, awards to victims of vaccine injuries have averaged $1,022,699, with no upper limit on the amount of awards for vaccine-related injuries. Under most circumstances, anyone claiming an injury as the result of a covered vaccine must file a claim with the VICP prior to filing a civil lawsuit. The acceptance of an award under the VICP precludes a victim or his family from bringing a lawsuit against the government, the vaccine administrator, or the vaccine manufacturer.