If you believe you have been injured by a vaccine, you may be able to bring a claim to receive compensation from a federally managed fund. However, not all vaccines are covered by the program, and not every injury will be considered to have been caused by the covered vaccines. So, who may file a vaccine injury claim will depend, in part, on what vaccine was administered and what injury was experienced. To understand why, we must look back at the history of the program.
Polio and the Polio vaccine
By the 1950s, polio killed thousands of people every year and paralyzed thousands more - many of whom were children. It had famously infected one U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, who because of the resulting paralysis, spent much of his time as president in a wheelchair and leg braces. In some cases, polio's paralysis left patients horrifyingly unable to breath on their own and were forced to use a device called an "iron lung." An iron lung assisted the patient to breath, and in many cases the patient would remain in the iron lung for a couple of weeks while they recovered from the disease. In other cases, the patient was forced to live inside the iron lung for the rest of their lives.
Different labs and researchers were working feverishly to discover a vaccine that would end this devastating disease. The first effective vaccine was developed in 1952 by Jonas Salk at the University of Pittsburgh. Testing began in 1953 and it became the largest medical experiment in history involving over a million and a half children throughout the country (only 440,000 of which actually received a vaccine). The vaccine was incredibly successful. The results were announced in 1955 and a number of companies began manufacturing the vaccine and distributing the vaccine and along with help from the March of Dimes, the vaccine had widespread acceptance. This resulted in an incredible reduction in the number of polio cases in the United States from over 35,000 cases in 1954 to 161 recorded cases in 1961.
Importantly, because of an effective vaccine, Polio has been eradicated in the United States and, today, it is only found in a few countries.
The Cutter Incident and a Growing Number of Vaccine Lawsuits
However, in the first weeks after the vaccine was being administered, some people began to contract polio within weeks of being vaccinated. After tens of thousands of new cases and hundreds of deaths and paralysis were caused by the vaccine, it was discovered that vaccine lots manufactured by two companies had not been properly "inactivated." As a consequence, these companies were sued. There was insuficient regulation of vaccine manufacture of the time, and apparently it turned out that the companies were not negligent in their processes. The court, however, found them liable for the injuries and deaths their vaccine caused without finding them negligent. These lawsuits provided some compensation to the victims, but they also provided a financial incentive for those companies to ensure they were doing the right thing, and prompted regulations for the manufacture of vaccines.
By the 1980s, however, as vaccination against a plethora of diseases became more widespread, lawsuits over them began to proliferate and exceed the number of actual vaccine-caused injuries. Lawsuits cost money to defend and cases involving vaccines were particularly expensive as they took a long time and almost always required hiring medical and scientific experts. Even legitimate cases had outcomes which varied so much that companies couldn't predict how much any individual case would cost.
Vaccine Shortages let to the creation of a "no fault" compensation program funded by Vaccine Manufacturers
Because of this unpredictable expense (some of which was not due to the manufacturers' negligence), many companies dropped out of manufacturing vaccines. By the end of 1984, only one company still manufactured the DPT vaccine. This threatened a return to prevaccine days of thousands of people dying or suffering permanent disability, unnecessarily. So, Congress stepped in and created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP). This program is a "no fault" compensation program for people who may have been injured by a number of vaccines against certain diseases.
The NVICP is funded by the manufacturers who provide seventy-five cents per vaccine dose they manufacture to the program. It is administered by the u.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the claims are processed by attorneys from the U.S. Department of Justice.
So, Who Can File a Claim?
Any individual, of any age, who received a covered vaccine and believes he or she was injured as a result, can file a petition. Parents, legal guardians and legal representatives can file on behalf of children, disabled adults, and individuals who are deceased. The list of covered vaccines can be found here: https://www.hrsa.gov/vaccine-compensation/covered-vaccines/index.html
There is also a vaccine injury "table" which outlines certain injuries from certain vaccines which makes it easier to receive compensation. If you have an injury from this table associated with a covered vaccine as outlined in that table, you may receive compensation without having to prove the vaccine caused your injury. These are called "table injuries" The table injuries can be found here:https://www.hrsa.gov/sites/default/files/hrsa/vaccine-compensation/vaccine-injury-table.pdf
If your injury is not on the table, however, you still may be able to file a claim as long as you received one of the covered vaccines and the injury's first symptoms occurred within a limited amount of time. However, vaccine cases can be complicated so if you believe you have been injured by a covered vaccine, you should contact an attorney experienced in handling vaccine claims. You should also do so as soon as possible, as there are time limits to filing claims in the NVICP.