WASHINGTON -- The nation's largest and oldest vaccine safety organization, the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), called the Bush Administration's plan to protect drug companies, hospitals and medical workers from liability for smallpox vaccine injuries and deaths, while leaving smallpox vaccine victims without any help, a "heartless" public policy.
"It is heartless to leave the victims of a government-sponsored mass vaccination program without any recourse to either civil litigation or federal compensation for the vaccine injuries they sustain. It is wrong for the U.S. government to tell Americans to take the smallpox vaccine and then, when someone dies or is injured because of that public policy, nobody takes responsibility," said NVIC president and co-founder Barbara Loe Fisher.
The National Vaccine Information Center represents more than 40,000 parents of vaccine-injured children, healthcare professionals and those who advocate reform of the mass vaccination system. Fisher and other parent co-founders of NVIC worked with Congress in the early 1980s on the historic National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which created the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) to provide financial support for victims of federally recommended childhood vaccinations.
"We are very concerned that the attitude that the Department of Justice is taking toward smallpox vaccine victims is the same attitude that will prevail as Congress prepares to go back into the VICP to fix the many problems with it. Big drug company lobbyists and public health officials have always tried to discount the extent of vaccine injuries, and it is clear that an attempt will be made to shield drug companies from all liability while leaving most vaccine victims out in the cold," said Fisher.
The federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was created under the 1986 law in response to a threat by drug companies that if Congress did not protect them from liability for vaccine injuries and deaths, they would stop producing vaccines. Since the VICP has been in operation, there have been 7,580 applications by victims of childhood vaccinations and 1,783 awards for a total of $1.4 billion. In 1995, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Justice changed the Table of Compensable Events and raised the standards to prove causation in order to limit the number of awards. As a result, nearly two out of three children who apply for financial help with their vaccine injuries are turned away.
The 1986 law protected access to the civil tort system to sue vaccine manufacturers or negligent doctors if the child was turned down for compensation. Only a handful of vaccine injury lawsuits had been brought against manufacturers since the 1986 law was passed until the recent threat of lawsuits by parents who believe their children developed autism because of the mercury preservative in many vaccines. In response to the mercury lawsuits, a clause was inserted into the Homeland Security Act to shield vaccine manufacturers from liability for components of vaccines, like mercury, that can cause brain and immune system injuries.
Both Democrat and Republican legislators have vowed to remove the liability shield clause but have indicated that vaccine manufacturers will be granted added liability protection when legislation is introduced to reform the federal vaccine injury compensation program. "In reality, no amount of money can compensate anyone for the loss of their life through vaccine injury or death. But cutting off the threat of lawsuits will cut off all incentive for the government and industry to make the compensation program work properly. It will remove the financial incentive for the drug companies to continually improve the safety of their vaccines. If you combine mandated vaccines with no liability and no accountability for anyone involved, it is a prescription for injustice and abuse of the public trust," said Fisher.
Source: National Vaccine Information Center