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What is the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program?

The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a no-fault compensation program created in the late 1980s after pharmaceutical companies significantly raised the cost of vaccines to account for the litigative risk of lawsuits for vaccine injuries. The legislation was called the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986.

After complaints of these price increases reached Congress, parents of vaccine-injured children, plaintiffs’ lawyers representing them, and representatives of Pharma got together with Congress and created the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. (NVICP).

The Program had two goals: 1) to insulate vaccine manufacturers from lawsuit to encourage the development and manufacture of new vaccines, and 2) to compensate those rare individuals who were injured by the covered vaccines. Originally there were 6 covered vaccines – those vaccines on the childhood vaccination schedule. [NOTE: Although called the Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, adults who were injured by covered vaccines could also file for compensation.]

Congress created an excise tax of 75 cents per vaccine based on the number of diseases being prevented by each vaccine. For example, each Diphtheria, Pertussis and Tetanus vaccine (now known as the DTaP or Tdap) had a tax of $2.25 per dose, or 75 cents per disease. The money from the excise tax went into a fund, the Vaccine Injury Fund. Vaccine injured children and adults are compensated out of that fund. In addition, the Fund partially covers the expenses of the Court of Federal Claims which administers the Program, and Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) and the US Department of Justice who represents the Secretary of HHS in the claims. There is approximately $4 billion in the fund currently.

A vaccine injury claim is not a lawsuit – it’s a claim for compensation from the Vaccine Injury Fund. We file claims against the US Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS). The Secretary is represented in these cases by US Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys. The claims are filed in the US Court of Federal Claims in Washington DC. This Court handles all claims against the US government, not just vaccine claims. Within the Court of Federal Claims is the Office of Special Masters, the Vaccine Court. There are 8 special masters who adjudicate the cases. They act like trial judges. They hear the evidence and make determinations as to whether or not the individual was injured by the vaccine and if they were, they make a determination of damages.

Today, the VICP covers 16 vaccines. The current covered vaccines can be found here. [The COVID-19 vaccines are not covered in the VICP. They are covered by the Countermeasures Program.] If you are injured by one of the 16 covered vaccines, you may not sue a vaccine manufacturer until after you’ve gone through the VICP first.

Despite the language on the NVICP’s website, these cases are very challenging and often involve complex scientific/medical and legal theories and require multiple experts. While you have a right to file a claim pro se (without an attorney) the Court strongly recommends against this. Further, the rules of the Court are very different than in typical civil litigation. You need an attorney experienced in the VICP, and since this is a federal program, you don’t need a local attorney. VICP attorneys can represent anyone in the United States.

For more information contact The Law Office of Renée J. Gentry, Esq.

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