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Wednesday, September 30, 1998

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Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Marks Tenth Anniversary

October 1 marks the ten-year anniversary of a program designed to encourage childhood vaccination by providing a streamlined system for compensation in rare instances where an injury results from vaccination, the Department of Justice and the Department of Health and Human Services announced today.

In the past 10 years, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program has succeeded in providing a less adversarial, less expensive and less time-consuming system of recovery than the traditional tort system that governs medical malpractice, personal injury and product liability cases. More than 1,300 people have been paid nearly $1 billion since the inception of the program.

"This program has resolved favorably the claims of hundreds of families through a system that was created specifically to handle the uniqueness of vaccination-related injuries," said Assistant Attorney General Frank Hunger. "Making the process more streamlined for all participants, especially those who are filing claims, is a priority of the program."

Each year about 153 million doses of vaccine are given in the United States, providing one of the most effective of all public health practices and saving thousands of lives through prevention of disease. "The program is succeeding in its major purpose, which is to encourage childhood immunization," said Claude Earl Fox, M.D., administrator of HHS' Health Resources and Services Administration. "The risk of experiencing any severe health problems related to immunization is much less than the risks posed by vaccine-preventable diseases, and we must continue to support a strong program of immunization for our children."

Under the program, individuals who believe they have been injured by a covered vaccine can file a claim against HHS in the United States Court of Federal Claims. If found eligible, they can recover compensation for related future medical and rehabilitative expenses, and in certain cases, they may be awarded funds for pain and suffering and future lost earnings. Often, an award under the program is more than $1 million.

As mentioned, one of the notable goals of the program's initial design was to assist in combating childhood disease, by encouraging vaccination. To that end, vaccines initially covered under the program include those that protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), and polio. The program continues to evolve consistent with medical science, and last year HHS expanded coverage to three new vaccines: hepatitis B, varicella (chicken pox) and Hemophilus influenzae type b.

Another positive result of the program is that costly litigation against drug manufacturers and health care professionals who administer vaccines has virtually ceased. While an individual who is dissatisfied with a final judgment under the program can reject it and file a lawsuit in state or federal court, very few lawsuits have been filed since the program has been in place.

"The supply of vaccines in the United States has been stabilized, and the development of new vaccines has markedly increased," said Hunger. "Vaccines have improved the quality of life for millions of Americans, and this program has protected the integrity of our childhood vaccination program."