Anti-vaccine sentiment is often fed by conspiracy theories, the main one being that the government is deliberately covering up the risks of vaccination. A corollary of that theory goes like this: You can tell the government is doing this because it has a secret vaccine court that quietly hands out millions of dollars in hush money to the many people whose vaccines caused autism.
Like many myths, this one has a tiny toehold on reality. The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, does hear the cases of people who claim to have been harmed in some way by vaccines, and awards damages to those whose complaints have merit. But there is nothing secret about the vaccine court; it was established more than 20 years ago, funded by a tax that’s paid by vaccine makers, as a way of compensating those with legitimate vaccine injuries while avoiding costly civil lawsuits that might worry vaccine-makers and lead to shortages.
In other words, the vaccine court was created to make sure vaccines would continue to be available, not to hide anything about them. And these are just a couple of the misconceptions about the compensation program.
Nothing about this should be surprising or arouse suspicion. Vaccines are generally safe and effective, but no one has ever said they are 100% safe. Reactions can range from long-term shoulder pain after improperly administered tetanus vaccines to life-threatening anaphylactic shock from an extreme allergic reaction.
The illnesses vaccines prevent, though, are many, many times more dangerous, and serious reactions to vaccines are extremely rare. Autism is not among them; it has been well established that vaccines do not cause autism.
The best way to address dark suspicions is to bring them into the light and examine them in a fair and fact-based manner. And that’s exactly what a new article in Science magazine does. Though the vaccine court has been written about many times, the Science piece does a particularly clear, careful and objective job on the subject.
The data alone is worth the read: Since 1988, when the court started up, it has reviewed 16,000 cases and awarded compensation in less than a third of those. That still might sound like a large number—thousands of people—until it’s placed in context with the millions of vaccines administered.
“For every million vaccine doses eligible for compensation that were distributed in the decade beginning in 2006, the court compensated one injury victim,” the article says. None of those were for autism and the most common claims were for less serious injuries.
Here’s an example of how much safer vaccines are than the diseases they prevent, as laid out in the article: “The tetanus vaccine … causes a life-threatening allergic reaction in at most 0.0006% of people who get the shot. The U.S. case fatality rate from tetanus, by contrast, is 13.2%.” In other words, tetanus is at least 22,000 times more likely to kill.
The article goes on to describe the kinds of cases that prevail, and those that don’t:
“Where the evidence shows that a vaccine did serious or fatal damage, as with a 4-year-old girl who died of anaphylaxis the day after receiving several childhood vaccines, the court awards substantial damages. Her parents received the maximum death benefit under the law: $250,000.
“But the court also draws lines when petitioners and their lawyers present weak, implausible cases—like that of a 4-month-old boy who was vaccinated and that night died, facedown, while sleeping under the same heavy covers as his mother. An autopsy found clear evidence that the baby had suffocated—and no evidence of vaccine-induced injury.”
It includes interviews with those who suffered injuries, including a lawyer who had ongoing shoulder pain after an improperly administered tetanus shot and who went on to specialize in representing people before the vaccine court. If anyone could be expected to be anti-vaccine, it would be this lawyer, Leah Durant. Yet this is what she told Science about vaccines:
"Vaccines keep us healthy. They eradicate disease. If I had children, I would get them vaccinated."
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
What's Legislative Dau All About, Anyway?
5 Key Facts About the Online Vaccine Education Bill
What We Know About HPV Vaccine Safety