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People who get injured from COVID-19 vaccines could have a hard time getting compensated

·Reporter
·5 min read
In this article:
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With the U.K. beginning a colossal COVID-19 vaccination campaign this week, many nations around the world hope to get inoculations approved by their own regulators in the coming months.

However, there’s no data right now on the long-term safety of forthcoming COVID-19 vaccines. And patients who become injured by COVID-19 vaccines must pursue their claims through a restrictive federal program that significantly limits an injured patient’s ability to receive compensation.

It’s called the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), and it’s one of two federal government-funded agencies that comprise the only avenues to initiate vaccine injury claims. And so far, only CICP is authorized to handle claims arising from COVID-19 treatments and to date has no funding for such claims from Congress, a Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) spokesperson said.

“As the need for funding for COVID-19 related claims becomes clearer, those requests will be made,” the spokesperson said.

The purpose of having the federal government compensate people outside of the regular justice system for such injuries is to provide a low-risk environment for drug companies racing to manufacture a COVID-19 vaccine — including Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX), Moderna (MRNA), Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), AstraZeneca (AZN), Sanofi (SNY), and GlaxoSmithKline plc (GSK) .

‘Minimal’ benefits for those injured by a COVID-19 vaccine

This program leaves potential victims with narrow options for injury compensation, according to vaccine injury attorney Jeffrey S. Pop. He said while vaccine injuries are extremely rare, the unlucky few who end up injured from a vaccine approved at warp speed should be fully compensated. Even vaccines that have been out for years, he said, still cause problems.

A nurse administers CoronaVac, a Sinovac's potential vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to a volunteer and nurse Sarah Rangon at Emilio Ribas Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil July 30, 2020. Picture taken July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli
A nurse administers CoronaVac, a Sinovac's potential vaccine against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), to a volunteer and nurse Sarah Rangon at Emilio Ribas Institute in Sao Paulo, Brazil July 30, 2020. Picture taken July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Amanda Perobelli

“You have to realize [vaccine] claims if they're serious, they could be for a lifetime — it could be something like quadriplegia, or brain damage — they’re rare cases, it’s all rare, and could be one out of 100,000 people that get a vaccine, or one out 500,000 people, that has a reaction,” Pop said.

CICP provides eligible injured victims with reimbursement for out of pocket medical expenses, up to $50,000 in unreimbursed lost wages, and a survivor death benefit for eligible family members of deceased victims up to $370,376.

Pop describes those CICP benefits as “minimal,” compared to a sister program called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP or VICP) that so far has not been authorized to compensate people for COVID-19 vaccine injuries. Because CICP provides no compensation for pain and suffering, or for attorney’s fees, and prohibits victims from appealing their case, Pop said it could fall seriously short of helping victims who sustain serious injury.

Under the more robust VICP, victims are entitled to compensation similar to that which is available through the justice system, such as for pain and suffering, attorney’s fees, as well as the right to appeal their cases. “Under CICP, they would not be, no matter how rare, or not so rare, the reaction may be,” Pop said.

Not only does CICP deny compensation for pain and suffering and attorney’s fees, and the right to appeals, it prohibits litigants from holding hearings and introducing evidence and expert testimony. Another CICP disadvantage, Pop said, is that the only the government’s own expert can form the basis for what constitutes a permissible claim. Therefore, he said, under the CICP program, it seems highly unlikely that any individual with a reaction that's not “open and notorious, even though rare,” could ever get any kind of compensation.

Trial kits for Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination study are seen at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello
Trial kits for Pfizer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination study are seen at the Research Centers of America, in Hollywood, Florida, U.S., September 24, 2020. REUTERS/Marco Bello

The CICP limitation also presents a major problem for those who cannot afford a lawyer, vaccine injury attorney Sean Greenwood previously told Yahoo Finance. Greenwood said those who cannot afford a lawyer often forego counsel, which results in fewer filings and lower awards. “Good luck without a lawyer navigating this stuff, because it’s extremely complicated,” Greenwood said.

Unlike CCIP, which began in 2009, VICP is an established system currently funded with $3.9 billion. Over a 30-year period from 1988 to 2018 the program adjudicated 19,114 petitions, from which it determined 7,542 to be compensable. It allows people to file claims up to three years after vaccination.

The CCIP program, meanwhile, has deemed deemed 39 claims eligible for compensation, with payouts totaling $5.7 million, according to the HRSA, which notes that the program limits filings to one year after vaccination.

On Sunday, President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) had been selected to lead the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees the CICP and VICP programs.

In order for COVID-19 vaccines to be covered by VICP, they would need to be recommended for routine administration to children or pregnant women by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and added to the program by the Secretary of HHS, who would be Becerra if he’s confirmed. Vaccine sales would also need to be subject to a federal excise tax to fund the agency and its compensation pools.

“The HHS secretary has that power, unless Congress wants to change it,” Pop said.

Alexis Keenan is a legal reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow Alexis on Twitter @alexiskweed.

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