South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, May 2010, #5.
An Overview of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act
South Carolina Lawyer May 2010 An Overview of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act By Miles E. Coleman Introduction
It is difficult to overstate the importance of vaccinations to modern health and quality of life. In the two centuries since Edward Jenner pioneered the smallpox vaccine in 1796, vaccinations have been credited with the virtual eradication of smallpox, polio, measles and diphtheria. Today, vaccination is a nearly universal and inescapable part of life. The average American child receives nearly 24 vaccinations in the first two years of life, and adults are frequently vaccinated for overseas travel or new diseases like H1N1, the so-called swine flu virus. See American Academy of Pediatrics, 2010 Immunization Schedules, http://www.aap.org/immunization/IZSchedule.html.
The individual and societal benefits of this immunization regimen are vast. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that the childhood vaccinations administered in any given year prevent 14.3 million cases of disease and 33,500 premature deaths over the course of those children's lifetimes. See Press Release, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Most U.S. Parents are Vaccinating According to New CDC Survey Vaccine Coverage Rates for Children Remain High (Sept. 4, 2008), available at http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2008/r080904.htm. Unquestionably, vaccines rank among mankind's greatest achievements in public health and are of great benefit to the vast majority of individuals. In rare instances, however, vaccines can cause serious injury. This article will explore the legal mechanism designed to easily, quickly and generously reward those injured by vaccinations.
Throughout the 20th century, as vaccination schedules prescribed more and earlier immunizations, there was a growing awareness of the potential dangers of vaccinations and an accompanying resistance to immunization. In response, Congress passed the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 ("Vaccine Act" or "the Act"). Congress acknowledged the potential dangers of vaccination and the possible disastrous effect of the growing trend of tort litigation against vaccine manufacturers:
While most of the Nation's children enjoy greater benefit from immunization programs, a small but significant number have been gravely injured. These children are often without a source of payment or compensation for their medical and rehabilitative needs, and they and their families have resorted in greater numbers to the tort system for some form of financial relief. At least in part as a result of this increase in litigation, the prices of vaccines have jumped enormously. The number of childhood vaccine manufacturers has declined significantly. In certain areas, the level of immunization against some preventable diseases has decreased while the incidence of those diseases has increased. H.R. Rep. No. 90-908 at *4. Designed as a simpler alternative to traditional tort litigation, the Act establishes "a Federal 'no-fault' compensation program under which awards can be made to vaccine-injured persons quickly, easily, and with certainty and generosity." Id. at *3.
The Vaccine Act, codified at 42 U.S.C. §§ 300aa-1 to -34 (2006), establishes a comprehensive scheme for compensating vaccine-injured persons and for improving the safety and effectiveness of immunizations. Many of these provisions-establishing committees, imposing administrative requirements and the like-are of little concern to injured parties or their attorneys. Of more interest to parties seeking...