A pair of federal programs compensating people who suffer injuries from vaccines and pandemic treatments are now facing so many claims that thousands of people may not receive payment for their injuries any time soon.
The first program, meant for standard vaccines, such as measles and polio, has too little staff to handle the number of reported injuries, and thousands of patients are waiting years for their cases to be heard.
A second program designed for vaccines and other treatments created or used during pandemics has seen unsustainable growth. Between 2010 and 2020, the Countermeasure Injury Compensation Program received 500 complaints. In the two years since Covid-19 appeared, it has received over 8,000 complaints.
More than 5,000 of those are directly related to the Covid-19 vaccines, with injuries ranging from a sore shoulder to death, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration. An additional 3,000 complaints related to everything from drugs and devices to the failure of hospital staff to limit infection spread have also been filed.
Yet the pandemic fund has paid zero claims, in part because officials are waiting for people to submit detailed medical records and documentation to back up their allegations.
“Compensation determinations are made based on individual case reviews, and the statute sets a very high standard that a claimant must meet to be eligible for compensation,” HRSA spokesperson David Bowman said.
Should Covid-19 shots become routine once the pandemic ends, alleged injuries would eventually be handled by the already over-burdened standard Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Patient advocates, attorneys and the pharmaceutical industry fear that without drastic reforms, that program could collapse.
Despite bipartisan calls for change, Congress has failed to act, frustrating those who say that the VICP — which covers nearly three times as many vaccines today as it did when it was created three decades ago — is overwhelmed.
There are fears those optics could fuel vaccine hesitancy if the public mistakes the situation as too many injuries flooding the program, when in fact the number of vaccines covered by the program has grown without a commensurate increase in resources.
“The cost of this program failing will be like throwing kerosene on the antivax fire,” said Renee Gentry, director of George Washington University’s Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic.
Covid-19 shots have proven to be safe for the overwhelming majority of people, but injuries do occur, as they do for all vaccines. Allergic reactions are possible, and some specific adverse events have been associated with the shots, such as myocarditis and pericarditis after messenger RNA vaccination, and thrombosis with thrombocytopenia after receiving the Johnson & Johnson shot.
**By Lauren Gardner