Childhood Vaccinations: Compensation For Rare But Serious Injuries

In the first two years of life, a child I the United States should receive ten vaccinations/immunizations against eight major diseases: Polio, Measles, Mumps, Rubella (German Measles), Pertussis (Whooping Cough), Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Haemophilus. One of the goals of National Healthcare Reform is to increase the rate of childhood immunizations by providing vaccines for children at no cost.

Although the majority of children receive these vaccinations without any complications or with only mild reactions, a small percentage of children suffer from severe reactions that result in permanent damage including seizure disorders, mental retardation, delayed physical development, behavioral disorders and death. Because the actual number of serious adverse vaccine reactions is small, routine vaccinations should be provided to children to prevent epidemics of the crippling and disabling diseases which once occurred. However, it is important that individuals be aware that vaccine-related injuries do occur and that assistance is available.

Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Compensation Act of 1986 in order to establish a program through which compensation may be paid on behalf of individuals who have been permanently injured or have died as a result of being given a childhood vaccine. The program is a no-fault system, under which eligibility for compensation is determined in most cases according to a table of vaccines, time frames and reactions. The vaccine injury program is intended as an alternative to civil litigation.

In the July 4, 1994 edition of the American Medical News, the AMA reported that it will continue to support the Act and has been called upon to study, among other issues, whether to endorse 18 Proposed Standards for Pediatric Immunization Practice recommended by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee. Although there were initial concerns about delays in the processing of submitted claims and the payment of adjudicated claims for vaccinations prior to 1988, the AMA report indicates that the programs budgetary problems relating to pre-1988 vaccine claims have been resolved.

As of February 1994, more than 1,000 claims totaling $374.4 million had been awarded through the Act, and the number of civil lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers has fallen to fewer than 20 a year from a peak of 255 lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers, the frequency of injuries to vaccinated children, while small, has not been reduced.

In order for parents to receive assistance in the event of an adverse vaccine reaction, Stern Steiger Croland has developed a special department for handling vaccine-related injury cases under the Act.

©Stern Steiger Croland, P.A.: The Newsletter, Vol. 1, No. 2, (Fall 1994).