By Deirdre Imus
The laws of a country are, generally, designed to protect its citizens. How this ideal is interpreted is a topic of debate in various circles, but its goal is lofty, if not quite perfect. Of specific necessity are laws aimed at protecting children, including child abuse, welfare, and labor laws. Of zero necessity, in my view, is the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act(NCVIA), which sounds like it has the best interests of this nation’s young citizens in mind, but actually serves a much different purpose.
Congress passed the NCVIA in 1986, and President Ronald Reagan signed it into law soon after. Taken at face value, the law has some admirable provisions: it established improved communication regarding vaccines across all Department of Health and Human Service agencies; required health care providers who administer vaccines to provide a vaccine information statement to the person getting the vaccine or his or her guardian; and established a committee from the Institute of Medicine to review the literature on vaccine reactions.
Dig a little deeper, however, and the NCVIA does less to protect patients than it does drug companies making vaccines. When Reagan signed the NCVIA, he also created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which allows anyone—children and adults—who have suffered an injury (or worse) following a vaccination to file a claim. To date, it has paid out nearly $4 billion in compensation since 1988, including the 2008 case of Hannah Poling, whose family received more than $1.5 million in a landmark court award for a vaccine-autism claim.
While this might sound like a good thing, one must read between the lines. The NCVIA also sets limits on the liability of vaccine manufacturers. They don’t have to pay a dime, in most cases, if someone is injured as a result of a product they make. Is there any other industry afforded such immunity? The pharmaceutical industry makes billions of dollars annually producing, promoting, and injecting a product that is known to injure people in myriad ways, and bears zero responsibility when a child—or an adult—suffers as a result.
The system is broken, and it’s why the founders of the nonprofit National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), which worked with Congress in the 1980s to get the NCVIA passed, began calling in 2015 for its repeal. In a press release, NVIC co-founder Barbara Loe Fisher noted that the federal vaccine injury compensation program has become “a drug company stockholder’s dream and a parent’s worst nightmare.” In the same document, co-founder Kathi Williams argues that the provisions that their organization helped secure in the law are not being enforced, and most children getting government-recommended vaccines are denied vaccine injury compensation.
“That zero liability rests on the vaccine manufacturers is a travesty of epic proportions.”
I echo their calls for repeal. Children are given between 53 and 56 vaccine doses containing 177 to 232 antigens between birth and age 18. Vaccine reactions range from a mild fever, muscle/joint pain, and injection site swelling to seizures, trouble breathing, vomiting, and permanent brain damage. Though considered “rare” by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these more serious effects admittedly occur, and people suffer. That zero liability rests on the vaccine manufacturers is a travesty of epic proportions.