Vaccinations protect us from severe illnesses, but in rare causes they can cause harmful side effects.
Lisa Smith’s story begins in 2005. She was running her daily errands when she decided to stop by her local pharmacy to receive a flu shot. A few days later, she noticed her muscles were a bit sore and her throat had a faint tickle. Smith brushed it off as minor side effects of the flu shot.
Only, the pain continued to get worse as the weeks went on. Her breaking point came when she was sitting on the couch and realized she couldn’t stand up. A helpful neighbor found her and was able to call an ambulance. Once at the hospital, Smith was asked if she had recently received a flu shot. Doctors noticed her symptoms of soreness and extremely inflamed nerves and diagnosed her with Guillain-Barre syndrome. This rare disorder affects the immune system, which attacks the nerves. Only 3 to 6,000 people develop the syndrome each year. The majority of cases are not linked to flu vaccines, but there is a rare case or two that has been connected. Out of the 130 million flu shots distributed each year in the United States, only one to two cases result in Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Smith’s story brought to light how the government protects victims of vaccine-related illness. Known as ‘vaccine court,’ the relatively unknown resource was created to protect patients and pharmaceutical companies. It is officially called the Office of Special Masters of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.
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The court offers a no-fault compensation program that resembles a normal U.S. tort system. Vaccine court was created in 1986 as a response to several lawsuits regarding children’s adverse reactions to the diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus vaccine. The lawsuits resulted in millions of dollars being awarded to the families. The awards were so great that many vaccine companies threatened to stop production.
“Health officials were scared about the potential lack of vaccines,” explains a personal injury lawyer. “The government needed a way to protect the vaccine producers.”
To protect both the companies and citizens, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, which created a compensation fund for vaccine injuries. The fund comes from a small surcharge that citizens pay when they receive an immunization.
To be admitted into vaccine court, a person must submit proof of getting the vaccine and suffered condition listed on the vaccine injury table. If their condition is not listed, they must find more evidence, which usually consists of a statement from a doctor.
At the time of Smith’s application to vaccine court, Guillain-Barre syndrome was not listed. Fortunately, she was able to provide the information needed. The syndrome is now listed after her case.
It is important to note that the United States’ supply of vaccinations is one of the safest in history. Most vaccines do not cause side effects, although there is always rare cases.
Unfortunately, many people who would qualify for this assistance do not know about the program. The program can do so much good, but isn’t working the way it should. Only 14,000 cases have been taken by the vaccine court. Officials say that the results are very discouraging.
The government has been reluctant to spread the word about vaccine court because they believe it would be bad publicity for vaccinations. Right now, vaccinations are a hot topic with the ongoing debate about whether or not to get the shots.
Vaccine court has been a extremely helpful program for those that have been able to find it. It is unfortunate that such an important and useful government resource is quietly operating behind the scenes.