COVID-19: Recourse for Vaccine Reactions

It’s rare for a person to have a severe reaction to a vaccine. That’s comforting. Especially since there is very little recourse for a person who has had such a reaction.

Vaccines are good. They can help prevent disease by training immune systems to recognize dangerous pathogens.

COVID-19 vaccines are good. Not only can they reduce the chances of catching the coronavirus pathogen, but they will help lead us to a return to normalcy.

But sometimes things go bad. It’s not unusual for people to have relatively minor reactions to the vaccine, such as localized pain, swelling, fatigue, headache, chills, fever, joint pain and nausea. But on rare occasions people can also have severe and potentially life threatening reactions. These include a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, blood clots and a dangerous inflammation of the spinal cord known as transverse myelitis. There have even been reports of deaths following the administration of the vaccine, though the linkage is not conclusive.

Anyone may report — and healthcare providers and manufacturers must report — a severe reaction via the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS). VAERS compiles the data and makes it available to the public (without identifying information).

Reporting is fine, but what do you to recoup the medical and other costs that are related to your reaction to the vaccine?

Manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccine are generally immune from lawsuits. Under the 2005 federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act), as invoked by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, a maker of the COVID-19 vaccine may not be sued in the absence of “willful misconduct” by the maker. The Secretary concluded that this immunity was necessary to accelerate the process of developing vaccines and getting them out to the public.

The PREP Act is not helpful; we must look elsewhere.

One possibility is the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP). Under the CICP, a person may be able to receive benefits if they experience a serious injury from certain “countermeasures,” such as the COVID-19 vaccine. The types of benefits potentially available under the CICP are medical expenses, lost employment income and survivor death benefits.

To start the process of obtaining benefits, a person must first submit a request package to the CICP. If the CICP medical staff determines that the submitter is eligible for benefits, the person is asked for additional information to aid in determining the amount and type of compensation.

Unfortunately, the CICP pays very few claimants, maybe 10% since its inception in 2005.

Another possibility is the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The procedures under the VICP are quite complicated and time consuming. A person who believes they were injured by a vaccine may file a petition with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The medical staff of the Department of Health and Human Services evaluates the petition and makes a preliminary determination. This determination is submitted to the Department of Justice which develops a report for submission back to the Court of Federal Claims. The a special master appointed by the court holds hearing where evidence can be submitted. The special master determines the amount and type of compensation. The court then orders the Department of Health and Human Services to award the compensation. The petitioner may appeal the court’s order and file a suit in civil court against the vaccine manufacturer or the health care provide who administered the vaccine.

Unfortunately, the VICP is not a practical remedy. It has a backlog of five years in its cases; and very few of the claims are granted without threat of litigation. There can be a very long wait before compensation is made.

In the end, there really is no adequate current solution for dealing with the costs of extreme reactions to the COVID-19 vaccine. We can only hope that the present U.S. administration will address the issue.

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