All vaccines can cause serious side effects — including death — and that will include any potential coronavirus vaccines in our future.
This is because vaccines are designed to trigger an immune response, and in some people, the immune system overreacts. The most common result is swelling and pain, but some people develop severe allergic reactions, brain inflammation, or even paralysis.
Even so, the drug-makers who are racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine have little to fear from people who are injured or killed by it.
That’s because Congress has given pharmaceutical companies immunity from vaccine injury lawsuits since the 1980s.
In normal times, Americans who are injured by vaccines must ask the government to pay for their medical bills and lost income through the “Vaccine Court” — called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.
But these are not normal times. Unlike flu shots and routine childhood immunizations, people who are inevitably injured by a COVID-19 vaccine will have to seek compensation through a rarely-used program that critics warn is like a “black hole” for getting paid.
After the September 11 terrorist attacks, Congress created the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP) — an alternative to the Vaccine Court, specifically for vaccine injuries after pandemics and bioterrorism, like anthrax or the 2009 H1N1 pandemic.
Very few claims with the CICP have ended in payouts, and the average payout was less than half of a typical Vaccine Court payout.
Since 2010, the CICP has only paid out about $5.7 million to 39 people — or around $150,000 on average — in around 8% of claims.
In comparison, the traditional Vaccine Court has paid compensation in about 75% of cases in recent years. The average payout was also around $351,000 since 2015, with several multi-million dollar awards.
Unlike the CICP, the Vaccine Court always pays for attorneys’ fees, regardless of whether a person is awarded compensation or not.
There are some other major differences between the two programs. People who are injured by COVID-19 vaccines won’t get to use expert witnesses, and if they don’t like the verdict, they won’t get an appeal.
They will also only get a short 1-year window of opportunity to file a claim. After the deadline, they will be unable to seek compensation.
The problem is that it may take longer than 1 year before experts can conclusively link a COVID-19 vaccine with a rare, serious side effect.
This was what happened in past pandemics after millions of people were vaccinated in mass-immunization programs. For example, a low risk of narcolepsy was liked to the 2009 H1N1 flu shot Pandemrix®, which was only licensed in Europe.
In the U.S., a mass-immunization program was stopped after just 10 weeks during the 1976 Swine Flu pandemic because the vaccine was linked to a type of paralysis called Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).
Only around 1 in 100,000 people who got the 1976 Swine Flu vaccine developed GBS, but because millions of people were vaccinated, around 450 people were diagnosed with GBS, and of them, 25 died.