Since 1988, the secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services keeps track of all Petitions that have been filed in the history of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). It also keeps track of every dollar that has been paid out to both people injured by vaccines, as well as their attorneys who represent them.
When we look at these records, we can see all Petitions that have been filed, the vaccines involved, whether the petitioner was “compensated,” and how much money was awarded. Although the number of Petitions has steadily increased over the years, the total number of Petitions filed per year is very low considering the number of vaccines administered every year.
The number of vaccine injury cases has increased over 33 years
In 1988 (the first year of its existence), the VICP saw a total of just 24 petitions filed. In 2019, 1,282 cases were filed, the most since 2003 when the influenza vaccine was added to the VICP’s list of covered vaccines. Since the VICP’s inception, a total of just 21,757 petitions have been filed in 33 years.
A closer look at the influenza vaccine demonstrates just how rare these injuries are. For instance, from 2006 through 2018, over 1.5 billion doses of the influenza vaccine were administered in the U.S. Over that same time period, only 4,057 Petitions were filed alleging an injury as a result of the influenza vaccine, and only 3,456 were compensated by either court decision or settlement.
Because adults get the flu vaccine, there are many more influenza vaccines administered than other shots. When accounting for all petitions filed in the VICP, the numbers show that in 33 years only 7,211 cases were “compensated.”
Which vaccine injury cases are compensated?
As we know, the VICP has strictly interpreted its Vaccine Injury Table to determine whether a petitioner is entitled to compensation. Many Petitions are dismissed with a denial of entitlement by the special master.
Other Petitions are resolved without the government acknowledging that the petitioner was entitled to compensation, or that the vaccine actually caused the alleged injury.
Let’s look at the total Petitions versus “Compensated” Petitions from 2006 through 2018. We see that out of 7,104 total Petitions, 4,943 were “compensated.” Out of those 4,943 compensated petitions, only 1,129 were conceded by the government, and another 317 were found compensable by the court. The other 3,497 cases were settled without a concession.
What was the total amount paid to vaccine injury victims in 2017 and 2018?
The VICP compensation fund is funded by a $0.75 excise tax on every dose of a vaccine that is administered. As of 2020, it is believed that the fund has grown to nearly $4 billion. As for the money that is paid out, in 2019, a total of $225,457,657.94 was paid to both petitioners and their attorneys. That number was down from $282,099,306.34 in 2017 and $226,457,657.94 in 2018.
I don’t believe that the fund is in any danger of running out of money any time soon. The number of petitions filed each year has yet to eclipse 750.
The other factor working to prevent large awards is the statutory cap on damages for pain and suffering. Petitioners are only entitled to $250,000, no matter how severe the injury.
Ultimately, vaccine injuries are underreported
Even though the numbers have consistently grown throughout the life of the VICP, I do believe that vaccine injuries are still underreported. As we’ve discussed before, there are many factors working against Petitioners to successfully obtain compensation for a vaccine injury.
First, because they’re so rare, vaccine injuries are often last on the list of diagnoses for medical professionals. Sometimes years could go by before the correct diagnosis is made. Unfortunately, by the time a patient realizes they suffered a vaccine injury, it may be too late to bring a claim.
Second, the existence of the VICP is not well-known by the public or by the medical community. Even if a vaccine injury is correctly diagnosed, that patient may not know he or she has an avenue to compensation.
As a vaccine injury lawyer, I talk to many people who found out about the program too late to bring a claim. Other vaccine-injured patients never learn of the program at all. These factors work to reduce the number of petitions filed with the VICP.
The above numbers provide some important context to the VICP. As you can see, vaccine injuries are extremely rare. However, their side effects can be devastating.