Few issues have been more controversial in the past few years than vaccine injuries
You’ve probably never had smallpox. Or polio. If you’re Gen X or younger, you’ve probably never had measles.
The reason you’ve never had these fatal or life-changing diseases is that it’s likely that you received vaccines to prevent some of them. The first smallpox vaccine was administered in 1796—that’s not a typo—this prevention started even before the 1800s. By 1980, the World Health Organization declared that smallpox had been eradicated worldwide, thanks to vaccines. People born after the early 1970s were not vaccinated against smallpox because they didn’t need to be; the disease was gone from our society and was no longer a threat.
But if you were around in 1955, you probably remember getting the polio vaccine. The vaccine’s inventor, Dr. Jonas Salk, tested the experimental vaccine on himself and his family in 1953. It was then tested on 1.6 million Canadian, Finnish and American children in 1954. It was licensed in the U.S. on April 12, 1955, and people began receiving their vaccines the following day.
Children today receive the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) as part of their routine immunization schedule. They receive this vaccine at 2 months, 4 months, between 6 and 18 months, and between four and six years old.
Routine immunizations for children and adults in the U.S.
The CDC recommends the following vaccines for children from birth to 15 months old:
- Hepatitis B
- Diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (DTaP)
- Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib)
- Pneumococcal conjugate
- Inactivated poliovirus (IPV)
- Influenza (flu)
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
- Hepatitis A
Many of these vaccines require booster doses when the child is between 18 months and 18 years old. In addition, the CDC recommends the human papillomavirus (HPV), meningococcal B and pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccines at certain ages within that time period.
Even adults are recommended to stay up-to-date on their vaccines, including a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis booster every 10 years; annual flu and COVID-19 vaccines; and others, depending on the person’s age and health conditions.
What is a vaccine injury?
Every person is different. Experts say that vaccines are overwhelmingly safe, but any medicine can have side-effects. Most people do not have serious problems from vaccines. But some people experience mild effects.
Common side-effects of vaccines include soreness, swelling or redness at the injection site. Some people also experience fever, rash or achiness.
Rarely, a person can have a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine that could include anaphylaxis, seizure or death.
SIRVA, which stands for “shoulder injury related to vaccine administration,” is a rare, but possible, complication of vaccine administration.
It’s important to note that SIRVA is not caused by the vaccine; it can be caused by how the vaccine is administered.
Symptoms of SIRVA include shoulder pain and a loss of range of motion in the shoulder area. Symptoms usually appear within 48 hours following a vaccine in the upper arm. The cause is receiving a vaccine too high on the upper arm, which could damage tissues or structures in the shoulder. A vaccine administrator should be trained to give a vaccine injection only after looking for specific “landmarks” on the arm that indicate the deltoid muscle.
A doctor would evaluate these factors before making a SIRVA diagnosis:
- You were not experiencing shoulder pain or discomfort prior to the vaccine
- The symptoms started within a certain amount of time following the vaccine
- The symptoms are isolated to the one arm/shoulder where the shot was administered
- Other testing rules out other health issues that could be causing the symptoms
If you are diagnosed with SIRVA, your doctor might prescribe physical therapy, steroid injections, or anti-inflammatory medications. If it’s severe, there could be a surgical treatment.
Vaccines and autism
Parents grew leery of vaccines after a paper by Andrew Wakefield was published in 1998, claiming a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
That study was subsequently retracted, which means it is no longer part of the scientific record because its claims were found to be fraudulent and data was misrepresented.
The retraction was based on two major flaws with the findings:
- The study claimed that children were diagnosed with autism after receiving the MMR vaccine. However, 90% of children received the MMR vaccine at the time and it’s given at an age when children are typically diagnosed with autism. Therefore, it would be expected that a certain number of children would be diagnosed with autism, regardless of the vaccine. Only vaccinated children were included in the study. To determine whether the vaccine caused autism, the researchers would need to study whether vaccinated children were more or less likely to be diagnosed with autism. Because no unvaccinated children were included in the study, there’s no comparison and the vaccine could not therefore be linked to the autism conclusion; and
- The authors claimed that autism was caused by intestinal inflammation. However, in the eight children who experienced the intestinal symptoms in the study, these were observed after, not before, the autism symptoms.
A 2002 study by the same author was also later regarded as inaccurate and flawed. Several following studies by other authors proved that the MMR vaccine does not cause autism.
In one study, three critical observations supported this finding:
- In a study of nearly 500 subjects, the percentage of children with autism was the same in the vaccinated and unvaccinated groups.
- The vaccinated and unvaccinated children who were diagnosed with autism displayed observable symptoms at the same ages.
- The symptoms of autism did not appear within two, four, or six months of receiving the vaccine.
Finally, in a study of more than half a million children over a seven-year period that represented more than 2.1 million person-years, in which 82% of children had received the MMR vaccine, it was found that the risk of autism in the vaccinated children was the same as in the unvaccinated children. There was no association between the age at the time of vaccination, duration between vaccination and symptoms, or date of vaccination with the development of autism.
Although Wakefield’s study was found not to be valid, the results continue to concern parents and caregivers. It began several decades of vaccine distrust in the U.S. and some people believing certain vaccines were responsible for a variety of injuries.
This distrust fueled growing anti-vaccine sentiments that have contributed to isolated measles and polio outbreaks in the U.S. in recent years and other issues related to vaccine hesitancy.
Compensation for vaccine injuries
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, administered by the Health Resources and Services Administration, is a way to file a request for compensation if you believe you’ve suffered a vaccine injury.
If your claim is related to the COVID-19 vaccine or other COVID-19 countermeasures, you can file a request for benefits with the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) is a “no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system for resolving vaccine injury petitions.”
This program was created in the 1980s to ease the burden of lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers and health care providers. The implications of ongoing lawsuits could have resulted in vaccine shortages and reduced rates of vaccinations, causing increases in vaccine-preventable diseases. However, if a person believes they suffered a vaccine injury, they may file a petition for compensation.
How to file a petition for a vaccine injury
- File your petition with the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
- A preliminary recommendation is made once the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services medical staff has reviewed the petition and determines whether it meets medical criteria for compensation.
- The medical recommendation and legal analysis is submitted to the court as a report by the U.S. Department of Justice.
- A special master receives the report and decides if the individual should be compensated. Sometimes there is a hearing that allows both parties to present evidence. The special master determines the amount and type of compensation.
- The court orders compensation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Sometimes this includes attorneys’ fees and costs.
The petitioner may appeal the special master’s decision. This would allow them to file a traditional personal injury lawsuit in civil court against the vaccine manufacturer and/or the healthcare provider who administered the vaccine.
You may only file a personal injury lawsuit for a covered vaccine injury if you’ve already completed the VICP petition process.
Some medical events are presumed to be a side-effect of a vaccine if no other cause is found. The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act Reporting and Compensation Tables (VIT) set forth each covered vaccine, associated adverse events, and the allowable interval between vaccination and the onset of the event.
Compensation for a death that results from vaccination is capped at $250,000.
If you believe you or your child has suffered a vaccine injury, you should seek the guidance of a personal injury attorney to see if you have a claim.