Lawsuits could bankrupt vaccine program


A program that encourages childhood vaccinations could collapse under unproven allegations that the shots cause disease, an expert warned at grand rounds for the Department of Pediatrics in May.

Paul Offit, M.D., chief of infectious diseases at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said that the fallout from a 2008 court decision would discourage vaccine makers from continuing production. Since 1955, when a bad batch of polio vaccine killed 10 people, testing and regulation of vaccines have improved. But subsequent court rulings that vaccine makers could be held liable without being negligent led to “a flood of lawsuits” in the 1970s.

In 1986 Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to protect vaccine makers while compensating those harmed by faulty vaccines. But Offit said that the program took “a sad turn” in 2008 when a special “vaccine court” composed of epidemiologists and clinicians ruled that claims can be granted even if it’s only possible—with no epidemiological evidence—that vaccines are responsible.

About 5,000 children who claim to be harmed as a result of vaccination await a decision that could bankrupt the vaccine program. If the decision allows for monetary compensation, “it could eliminate the program,” Offit said.