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How Rare Vaccine Injury Claims Are Handled

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The latest information from the CDC shows COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. The CDC says a small number of people suffered a severe allergic reaction, which is why the CDC recommends that people are monitored for at least 15 minutes after they receive a dose.

If someone is in that rare group injured by the vaccine, they cannot sue their doctor or the manufacturer. Instead, the claim goes to a federal program that many people may not have heard of.

The Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program was established to deal with vaccines under emergency use authorization -- like the COVID-19 vaccine. The idea is to allow vaccine makers to fast-track urgently needed vaccines without taking on the liability.

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However, Professor Peter Meyers from the George Washington University Law School said the CICP should be improved to increase transparency. He said CICP rarely pays claims and the claimants don’t have a right to appeal.

“It’s totally secret, it’s like a black hole. You file your petition for compensation, you don’t have a right to a hearing, you don’t have a right to an independent decision-maker, they never explain to you what the process is that they’re doing,” Meyers said. “You get a letter in the mail a couple of months later saying, 'Granted' or 'Denied.'”

As of March 1, CICP reported that out of 551 claims filed since 2010, 450 of them were declared ineligible for compensation and 62 cases were in the medical review process. CICP reported 29 claims paid out for a total of more than $6 million. Ten other claims did not receive compensation because they did not have any compensable expenses or losses.

NBC 5 Responds filed a Freedom of Information Act request for more information about the most recent claims filed. It's not yet clear how many claims have been filed since the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began.

Claims are limited to people who have suffered serious injury or death.

According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, which runs the program, the CICP provides unreimbursed or out-of-pocket medical expenses that it determines are reasonable and necessary to diagnose or treat a covered injury and its health complications. CICP also said it covers lost income and survivor death benefits.

A claim must be filed no later than one year after receiving the vaccine.

If a person is denied by CICP, there are few legal options. Dallas personal injury attorney Quentin Brogdon explained that under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, a consumer can not sue for damages unless there is willful misconduct.

“The only exception in these vaccine compensation program plans is for willful misconduct on the part of the manufacturer, for example,” Brogdon said. “That's going to be a very steep hurdle, essentially impossible for plaintiffs who want to make these kinds of claims.”

The CICP is separate from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which deals with most childhood and flu vaccines. There, claimants have three years to file a claim.

Meyers pointed out people have a right to a hearing in the VICP and the program covers the cost of expert witnesses and legal representation.

A perspective piece, published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Jan. 20 said CICP should be folded into the VICP to prevent inequities in compensation – especially for vulnerable communities.

Meyers said Congress should improve CICP or consider merging it with the VICP, pointing out it would lend confidence to the vaccines that provide hope for ending the pandemic.

“We could substantially improve it and give the American public what they deserve,” Meyers said. "Say to people, 'Get the vaccination. It is very safe, it’s very effective but for those very rare people who have an adverse reaction, we’re going to take care of you.'"

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