Shortly after the birth of their baby, Justin Kanew and his wife watched the film Vaxxed. It raised fears for him. He wrote:
We learned about the existence of the United States Vaccine Court, which has paid out over $3.5 Billion to vaccine-injured children.
I want to correct Mr. Kanew here. The program covers all vaccines, not just those given to children. Quite a few adults have been compensated. Readers can find the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program here.
$3.5 billion is a lot of money, but let's consider the denominator. How much money, per vaccine distributed over the entire 29-year history of the program? We don't have a good count of the total number of vaccines distributed sinke 1986, the best we can do is estimate from 2006 to 2014 (the last year for which a count was available)
- Total number of vaccines distributed, 1/1/2006-12/31/2014 = 2,532,428,541
- Total number of vaccine injury awards, FY 2006 - FY 2014 = 2,140
- Total amount of vaccine injury awards, FY 2006-FY 2014 = $1,306,003,930.68
This lets us do some simple math:
- Vaccine injury awards per million doses of vaccines distributed, FY 2006-FY 2014 = 0.85 -- less than one per million doses.
- Total amount of vaccine injury awards divided by total number of vaccines distributed, FY 2006-FY 2014 = $0.52
- Total amount of vaccine injury awards divided by the total number of vaccine injury awards, FY 2006 - FY 2014 = $610,282.21
That makes the numbers look a lot more reasonable, doesn't it?
John Snyder MD gave a brief overview of the program in 2009 at Science-Based Medicine:
In 1986, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was enacted by congress as part of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act. The most important purpose of the VICP was to safeguard the nation’s vaccine supply in the wake of a mounting torrent of lawsuits directed at vaccine manufacturers. These lawsuits were a major threat to the country’s vaccination program, as manufacturers faced potential jury awards that would be impossible to survive. In 1979 there was one DTP-related lawsuit. In 1986 there were 255. Between 1983 and 1984, costs related to these lawsuits climbed from $4.7 million to $9.9 million. In 1986 alone, over $3 billion in DTP injury claims were sought, which was 30 times greater than that year’s entire dollar value of DTP vaccine. Vaccine prices soared, and companies stopped making vaccines or went out of business entirely. In 1957 there were 26 vaccine manufacturers. In 1980 there were 17 companies making vaccines, and by 1986 there were only 3 (today there are only 5 major vaccine manufacturers in the world, and they are large pharmaceutical companies for which vaccines are only a small part of their product line).
The VICP effectively saved the nation’s vaccine program by moving these legal actions out of the traditional tort process, and creating a no-fault system whereby the vaccine manufacturers were saved from potential ruin. A special “vaccine court” was created to hear injury claims, presided over by Special Masters responsible for reviewing the evidence and quickly adjudicating cases on behalf of claimants. If a parent’s claim is deemed to fit a known vaccine complication, an award is usually given without significant reliance on the customary rules of evidence required by the traditional tort system. Compensation is drawn from a fund generated by a 75 cent excise tax on each vaccine component at the time a vaccine is administered (75 cents for a single vaccine like Hepatitis B, $2.25 for a three component vaccine like DTP).
While the VICP has been successful in providing timely compensation in cases of true (but rare) vaccine injury, the emphasis on streamlined proceedings, and the lack of rigor and evidence-base required of science (these are, after-all, legal not scientific hearings) has resulted in many rather dubious rulings. The special Omnibus Autism Proceedings, discussed previously on SBM, was established as an extension of the original vaccine court, and was designed to handle the over 5000 lawsuits clogging the system from parents claiming their children developed autism as a result of the MMR vaccine, the thimerosal preservative in other vaccines, or a combination of these factors. I’ll refrain from discussing the science behind this here, as it has been extensively covered elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the Special Masters poured over mountains of published evidence and listened to hundreds of hours of testimony on three test cases for these three theories. In a victory for science, they ruled strongly and unanimously against the claimants. This time, at least, the legal system respected the science and made it’s ruling accordingly.
I first wrote about the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in 2012
OH NO! The US has paid out $2 BILLION in vaccine injury compensation! That must mean vaccines are dangerous!
Actually, it doesn't. It means the program is working as it was designed to do. No medical intervention is without risk, including vaccines. There have been, and there will be, people who suffer permanent, significant, adverse consequences from vaccination. The rate of such injury is about 1 per million doses of vaccine.
Steven Novella MD wrote about the program at Science Based Medicine in 2013
While vaccines are of clear benefit, no one argues that they are risk free. There are rare serious complications. For this reason the US established the NVIC – National Vaccine Injury Compensation program. This is funded by a small tax on each vaccine, and is designed to compensate families of children who have a possible reaction to vaccines, bypassing the slow and costly regular court system. The NVIC works well.
The goal of the NVIC is not to determine scientifically if there is a link between a particular vaccine and a particular side effect. That is determined by the scientific community. Rather, the NVIC’s charge is to determine if “compensation is appropriate” in specific cases. They also give the benefit of the doubt to the families.
In many cases families do not have to prove that a vaccine caused a specific injury, only that their child had a certain medical outcome within a specific time frame of being vaccinated. Further, certain outcomes are considered “table injuries,” meaning that all the family has to do is establish that the child has the condition and the onset was within a certain window after getting a vaccine, and then compensation is automatic.
Allison Hagood (on of the authors of Your Baby's Best Shot) wrote about the program in 2013
The percentage of compensations to actual vaccines administered is 0.003%. Three one-THOUSANDTHS of one percent of cases of vaccination have resulted in compensation for injury.
I don’t know about you, but a safety rating of 99.997% seems really great to me!
So the next time you see one of those scary headlines or images, stop to think about how many vaccines are used, safely and effectively, to prevent diseases. Be thankful that the U.S. has a program to compensate the very, very few people who do have an adverse outcome from vaccination. Vaccinate your children, and as adults, make sure you are up-to-date on recommended vaccines.
Other articles on the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
- February 24, 2011 John Snyder at Science-Based Medicine Supreme Court Saves Nation’s Immunization Program (Bruesewitz v. Wyeth, Inc.)
- March 5, 2013: Allison Hagood guest posting at Tara Haelle's blog, Red Wine and Applesauce A Look at the Numbers in Vaccine Reactions
- September 12, 2013 Orac Knows at Respectful Insolence The Canary Party and Rob Schneider versus the Vaccine Court: Guess who wins?
- November 8, 2013 Dorit Ress at Shot of Prevention Blog: Doing Away With NVICP: Bad For Plaintiffs, Bad For Society
- November 12, 2013 Amy Pisani at Shot of Prevention Blog Take Action In Support of National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program
- November 22, 2013: Dorit Reiss at U.C. Hastings School of Law's Viewpoint: Dismantling Vaccine Injury Program Is Bad for All of Us
- April 13, 2014 Dorit Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog Price V HHS – Statute Of Limitations, Tolling, Vaccines And Autism
- November 25, 2014: Dorit Ress at Shot of Prevention Blog: The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: What Does the AP Report Really Show?
- March 3, 2015 Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams: Vaccine Injury: Real, but Exceedingly Rare.
- June 9, 2015: Dorit Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Facts
- August 11, 2015: Dorit Reiss at Shot of Prevention blog “A Dose of Reality” Does Not Support Abolishing the VICP
- September 7, 2015: Dorit Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog The Vaccine Court – Causation And Administrative Discretion
- October 27, 2015 Dorit Reiss and Michael Simpson at Skeptical Raptor Blog Shoulder Injury Related To Vaccine Administration And NVICP
- November 27, 2015 Dorit Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog Vaccine Injury Compensation And Autoimmune Syndromes
- November 27, 2015 Dirot Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog Vaccine Injury Compensation And Mitochondrial Disorders
- January 26, 2016: Dorit Reiss at Skeptical Raptor Blog NVICP Compensation For Guillain-Barré Syndrome – Facts
Background posts on the Omnibus Autism Proceeding (OAP)