With the introduction of the coronavirus vaccine in the US, a fact was lost that most don’t know when to roll up their sleeves: in rare cases of serious illness from the gunfire, the injured are prevented from complaining and instead become an obscure one Federal bureaucracy with a steered records of infrequently paid claims.
Located in a nondescript building in the suburbs of Washington, DC, the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program has only four employees and few features of an ordinary court. Decisions are made in secret by government officials, applicants cannot appeal to a judge, and payments are capped at $ 370,376 in most deaths.
George Washington University law professor Peter Meyers has followed the program for years and bluntly calls it a “black hole”. This summer, he received federal documents showing that he has paid less than 1 in 10 claims in his 15-year history.
Vaccines have historically offered broad, low-risk protection but, like all other drugs, have side effects. Few unexpected side effects were reported in the early days of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine distribution in the United States, despite a health worker in Alaska suffering from a severe allergic reaction, which included shortness of breath.
However, experts are concerned that given the sheer volume of people expected to receive coronavirus vaccines in the U.S. – more than 200 million – even a successful rollout with relatively few negative effects could be enough to keep the program running to flood.
“It should definitely be powered up,” said Dr. Vito Caserta, who oversaw the countermeasures program from its inception until its retirement in 2014. “You could be overwhelmed very, very quickly.”
When asked about that possibility, David Bowman, a spokesman for the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program, said he “plans to process the potential influx of COVID-19 claims. … additional staff and contractors are hired as required. “
Unlike the more established Federal Vaccines Court, which rules cases of injury from most childhood vaccines and other common vaccinations, the Injury Compensation Program was created by a 2005 law specifically for vaccines developed under emergency approval. The idea was to give drug companies and government agencies the freedom to develop and distribute vaccines to meet urgent public health needs without the risk of being inundated by expensive liability suits. Under the program, drug manufacturers can only be sued for “willful misconduct”.
At the time, several senators had objected. The late Massachusetts Democrat Edward M. Kennedy called it a “Christmas present for the drug industry and a bag of coal for everyday Americans.”
The vast majority of information under the program comes from the H1N1 swine flu vaccine a decade ago. And the small number of people receiving money – 29 out of 499 – reflects its design.
Most claims must be submitted within one year of receiving a vaccine, regardless of when side effects occur, and the program does not pay attorney or expert fees. There is little opportunity for those who submit claims to participate. And the awards don’t pay for suffering or harm.
“It’s illusory,” said Anne Carrion Toale, a vaccines attorney in Sarasota, Florida. “Nobody will actually get any compensation in this program.”
In contrast, the vaccination tribunal allows claims within three years, pays attorneys and witnesses, awards awards for pain and suffering, and allows appeals to the Supreme Court.
The difference is reflected not only in the number of awards, but also in their size. The countermeasures program paid out $ 6 million for an average premium of about $ 200,000 per incident. Not only has the vaccination court paid out 7 out of 10 cases over the past few years, but its average per claim – $ 570,000 – is more than two and a half times higher, totaling 4.4 billion over its three decades of history U.S. dollar.
Law professor Meyers, who received the data from the compensation court at the request of the Freedom of Information Act, described the 29 awards as “shockingly low” and called for a revision of the program.
He also expressed concern that this could deter people from taking vaccines amid a pandemic that has infected more than 75 million people and killed nearly 1.7 million people worldwide.
“It’s a great argument for the antivaxxers to say, ‘Oh my god, this is dangerous and if something happens to you the program will … turn its back on you,” said Meyers, former chairman of a government advisory group on the Vaccination court.
Meyers said it would be helpful to know exactly why each claim in the compensation program was approved or denied, but it doesn’t even reveal the most basic details like the types of diseases people claim they have received vaccines.
Vaccination attorney Toale believes that one of the main reasons for rejection is the one-year filing period. She recalled receiving dozens of calls from people saying they got sick from H1N1 vaccines a decade ago. Some have complained of possible symptoms of Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare immune system disorder that can lead to paralysis or death.
“They were all way too late,” she said. “There was nothing we could do.”
Such was the case of Christina Grim of Littlestown, Pennsylvania, who said she lived about a year after learning from her mother’s doctor that an H1N1 vaccination likely caused Guillain-Barre syndrome, which the 76-year-old is Daycare workers have killed filed a lawsuit.
“The clock started ticking, but it showed no symptoms. I didn’t know what happened to her, ”said Grim, whose mother, Verl, collected $ 25,000 in hospital bills after crawling down a hallway with limp legs a few days before she died in 2010. “I didn’t know the vaccine could do that to her.”
No one is sure how many of the more than 200 million Americans expected to receive coronavirus vaccines are likely to develop serious side effects, and not everyone who does will be able to make a claim. Only 1 in a million people who were given measles, mumps, and rubella vaccines, first given half a century ago, had severe reactions, but other vaccines had higher ratios.
Using the 25 per million who suffered severe side effects from the H1N1 vaccine, for example, would bring the number of such cases from the coronavirus vaccines to more than 5,000. That is more than ten times what the countermeasures program has received in its entire history.
Meyers said one solution is to move coronavirus claims to the vaccination court, formerly known as the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. However, this court itself is trying to clear a backlog of its own cases, with its eight judges currently taking more than five years to resolve claims.
Another problem is funding. Unlike claims before the vaccination court, which is funded from a 75-cent excise tax on every vaccine shot, the countermeasures program relies on Congress for its budget. A US $ 30 billion allocation by Congress to purchase vaccines and fund other coronavirus control efforts will allow some of that money to be transferred to a claims settlement fund, but no money has been transferred yet.
HRSA spokesman Bowman said these requests will be made when the funding needs arise.
Former Justice Department vaccine attorney Richard Topping, now chief legal officer at CareSource, said that was not good enough.
“We have essentially no plan, no reporting,” he said.