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Supreme Court Rules Vaccine Makers Shielded from Lawsuits

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.