By Sharon Frankenberg,
Attorney at Law

Back in the early 1980s, there were many reports of serious side effects from the DTP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine. Many lawsuits were filed against the vaccine companies, doctors and nurses for injuries allegedly caused by the vaccine. In response to this litigation, some vaccine companies stopped producing vaccines and this created shortages and endangered the public health.

Congress responded by creating the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) in 1988. The program was designed to ensure an adequate supply of vaccines and stabilize the cost of vaccines. Rather than using the traditional tort system of litigation to determine liability of various defendants, the VICP establishes a no fault system that compensates people found to be injured by certain vaccines. The vaccines covered by the VICP are diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis; haemophilus influenzae type b; hepatitis A; hepatitis B; human papillomavirus; influenza; measles, mumps, rubella; meningococcal; polio; pneumococcal conjugate; rotavirus; varicella; and additional vaccines which may be added in the future.

The VICP is funded by the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund. The Trust Fund receives a $0.75 excise tax on vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for routine administration to children. The tax is collected by the Department of Treasury which manages the Fund’s investments.

Since its creation, the VICP has received over 15,976 petitions for compensation/claims. 14,025 claims have been adjudicated, with 4,121 of these claims determined to be compensable, while 9,904 were dismissed. Total compensation paid over the life of the program is $3.1 billion. From 2006 to 2013, over 2.2 billion doses of covered vaccines were distributed in the U.S. according to the CDC. 2,903 claims were adjudicated by the Court and 1,709 of those claims were compensated. In fiscal year 2015, 348 petitions have been compensated with $166,378,344.82 going to award petitioners and $10,434,695.18 to attorneys’ fees and costs payments.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has jurisdiction to determine who receives compensation. However, the majority (80%) of all compensation awarded is as a result of negotiated settlements between the parties. This means that the court has NOT adjudged that the evidence proves that the vaccine has caused the injury alleged by the claimant. Why are these claims settled? According to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, some claims are settled to minimize the time and expense of litigating a case; to minimize the risk of a loss in court and the need to resolve a case quickly.