In a recent decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Childhood
Vaccine Injury Act (Vaccine Act) protects vaccine manufacturers from product
liability suits alleging defects in a vaccine’s design.
As a result of the decision, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,
a special tribunal set up by Congress, remains the only place where parents
can seek compensation for the adverse side effects sometimes caused by
vaccinations. Lower courts had been divided over the preemptive scope
of the Vaccine Act.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia stated that the Vaccine
Act “reflects a sensible choice to leave complex epidemiological
judgments about vaccine design to the FDA and the National Vaccine Program
rather than juries” (
Bruesewitz v. Wyeth LLC (U.S. Sup. Ct. No. 09-152, February 22, 2011)).
The compensation program issues “no fault” monetary awards
to individuals found to be injured by vaccines subject to the Vaccine
Act. This compensation program is funded by an excise tax on each vaccine
dose. Fast adjudication is made possible by the Vaccine Act’s Vaccine
Injury Table, which lists the vaccines covered by the Vaccine Act; describes
each vaccine’s compensable, adverse side effects; and indicates
how soon after vaccination those side effects should first manifest themselves.
The Vaccine Act, which established the
National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, was enacted for two key reasons. First, expensive lawsuits over injuries
from childhood vaccines were acting as a deterrent that kept many companies
from working to develop new vaccines, even when those vaccines could provide
a clear benefit. Second, families of those injured by childhood vaccines
spent large amounts of money and time seeking compensation through increasingly
complex court cases.
Nonetheless, the Supreme Court’s decision dramatically hinders those who
contend various conditions suffered by their children, including autism,
were caused by vaccines. It prevents claimants from seeking compensation
through the civil tort system and leaves those injured by vaccines with
only one opportunity for compensation.