Deep-Dive: Everything you need to know about the VICP

It’s strange looking back and seeing how far my story has come. Only 3 months ago, I stumbled my way to the immunization department to catch up on my missed vaccines. At the time, I thought nothing of it.  After speaking with the staff, I sat there by myself—no public attention on me, no camera waiting for me to speak—and just reassured myself that this was important. Catching up on my vaccines was something that I needed to do.

Now, I’m writing this introduction to my blog while I wait for my third round of shots. I think about how I testified before Congress, that this weekend I’ll be speaking at a TEDx conference, and reflect on how unbelievable my circumstances are.

Yet to some, my story is unbelievable in a negative way. To most people, it’s a story of a teenager finding truth, helping to protect himself and his community, and taking a stance against misinformation. A smaller, but vocal group, claims I’m a teenager being misled by big pharma and helping drive the country closer to genocide by vaccines.

With how far my story has come, I’ve seen the increasingly hostile and confrontational behavior of some individuals who stand against vaccines. Not only that, I’ve seen their arguments and reason presented over and over again.

Most would simply disregard these people, choosing to write them off as crazy or not worth their time. Others will engage head-on, commenting on every claim and picking it apart piece by piece. In my mind, both of these are ineffective: the first involves no effort to bring the truth to light, and the second usually leads to mean spirited arguments and debates.

Instead, what I’ve tried to do with this small group—with these communities that look to me as a pawn or naive teenager—is to identify the common claims followed by a serious and detailed conversation on why their rhetoric is incorrect. What are the biggest and most common arguments? What are some of the most recurring pieces of evidence or citations? Attacking those head-on in a fair and scientific way could do some good.

Every time I post on social media, speak with someone I know personally, or even have conversations with my mom, I see similar arguments. The same lines of thinking and logic are used consistently, so addressing those issues specifically is important. It’s not important because we're trying to prove these people wrong, but rather to show people like me—who are looking at the facts and logic—that vaccines are undeniably safe and effective. I even have a number of friends that claim to be ‘on the fence’ with vaccines because of the confusing arguments and nuance involved in this debate. This blog post is for them, to address one of the most ubiquitous arguments made by anti-vaxxers:

The vaccine court.

Part 1: What is the VICP?

The vaccine injury compensation program is a complicated and unique program meant to pay settlements, damages, and court costs resulting from vaccine-related injuries. The VICP was formed in the 80’s and has paid around 4 billion dollars since its creation, resulting in one of the biggest “gotcha” claims from anti-vaxxers. “Vaccines don’t cause autism? Well what about the VICP? Can’t explain that can you!” Even though it’s presented like that, there’s a lot of missing details in a claim structured this way. To start, let’s identify what the VICP really is...

“The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a no-fault alternative to the traditional legal system for resolving vaccine injury petitions. It was created in the 1980s, after lawsuits against vaccine companies and health care providers threatened to cause vaccine shortages and reduce U.S. vaccination rates, which could have caused a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases.”

This comes straight from the health resources and service administration (HRSA) website. Here, the HRSA details all things regarding the VICP. You can even find their data report on this program here, last updated at the time of this blog post on March 1, 2019. Just a few weeks ago. So right off the bat, this data and information is in no way hidden or old.

Keep that in mind—because why would the government maintain this transparency if the VICP and its payouts are some sort of government scheme? The answer is simple: they wouldn’t. This also shows the government is well aware vaccines carry a minor risk (though “risk” is in itself very strong vocabulary to communicate such a low chance of anything happening). The reason this program exists is to help the few individuals that suffer any sort of complications, especially because of the sense of responsibility placed on the government due to public's pressure on maintaining a high inoculation rate. When we place emphasis on vaccines, the minor risk possible should be accounted for. And that’s what the government decided to do with this program: protect the few who have complications while far more dangerous diseases are eradicated.

This program is not hidden, secretive, or outdated. Most individuals don’t know this program even exists, until an antivaxxer comments in all caps “4 BILLION DOLLARS!” followed by some random claims or bogus connections. This is frustrating, because the overlooked details were about to get into demonstrate the opposite of what anti-vaxxers are claiming is obvious proof of risk.

So what you need to know as we move onto the second section of this blog post is that

  1. The VICP protects individuals who suffer a complication to vaccines.

  2. The VICP is not a secret program and has information constantly updated/provided to the public

  3. Because of an intense emphasis placed on vaccines, the VICP was created to aid the few individuals that suffer a complication

  4. The VICP is a no-fault compensation program, meaning an individual who suffered a complication may, “receive compensation for their injuries, without proving fault against the opposite party.”

Part 2: Does the VICP demonstrate a high amount of vaccine injuries?

No, the exact opposite actually. And here's why.

When I started writing this blog, I knew this would be an issue that deals with a lot of statistics and complicated information. That information, without context, could very well be presented as factual. So I’ll try to explain this clearly and explain all numbers accurately and in their proper context.

The VICP was made nearly 30 years ago, when lawsuits from a few individuals threatened to lower inoculation rates. So ironically, the program was intended to make vaccines safer and less risky, but the program is used as an argument to stop vaccinations. If that seems strange, you should read last weeks blog here where we discussed the negative effects of an Italian court case which damaged the public's trust in vaccine safety. Because of these lawsuits, the VICP was formed. It works through the U.S. court of federal claims, where petitions are sent that detail a potential injury to vaccines. This petition is reviewed, and if determined to have any merit, follows a complex legal route that may lead to compensation.

You may be thinking, “Well how many people have applied for compensation through this program?” And the answer is around 20,000. On the surface this may seem like a lot of people, especially when anti-vaxxers will claim 90-99% of injuries go unreported (which is a claim that holds no real credibility, as upwards of 600,000 people would be injured and that isn’t the case). Of those 20,000, “17,718 petitions have been adjudicated, with 6,430 of those determined to be compensatable.” Only about 30% of the cases petitioned were compensated. And remember the individual claiming damages does not hold the burden of proof. (Edit: the burden of proof is not entirely off the petitioner, however the petitioner still holds less responsibility to prove their injuries are vaccine related. If the petitioner makes a case that is at least 50% likely, the requirement of proof is met)

Most of these were turned away because claimed damages were made on false premises. Recent studies have concluded that nearly half of new petitions are simply from minor needle injuries. Nothing to do with the contents of the vaccines. Even then, the negative public image around vaccines and misinformed beliefs about autism dramatically affect petitions to the VICP. Time magazine detailed how, “...since the rise of the anti-vax fringe, the VICP has been inundated. In 1998, the year U.K. physician Andrew Wakefield published his fraudulent paper linking the MMR vaccine to autism, just 325 injury claims were filed, 181 were dismissed and 144 were compensated. In 2010, Wakefield’s fraud was exposed, his paper was withdrawn, and he was stripped of his license to practice medicine in the U.K. But the anti-vax hysteria had been unleashed, driven in part by anti-vaccine drum-bangers like Jenny McCarthy. The following year, 1,637 claims were filed. In 2012, that figure rose further, to 2,702. The number of awards granted increased as well, but still remained in the low triple digits—266 in 2011 and 263 in 2012.”

When random celebrities and liars publish articles, it has an immediate effect. In the same article, Time magazine also stated, “From 2006 to 2014, approximately 2.5 billion doses of vaccines were administered in the U.S. In that time, a total of just 2,976 claims were adjudicated by the special masters and only 1,876 of those received compensation. Divide that number by the vaccine dose total and you get less than a one in a million risk of harm. Going all the way back to 1988—before the flu vaccine became part of the recommended schedule of vaccines—a total of 16,038 claims have been adjudicated and 4,150 have been compensated.”

So a few things to note here:

  1. Public perception of vaccines directly impacts programs like the VICP.

  2. Most petitions are false claims, and if not are usually minor injuries. Around 60% of petitions don’t gain compensation for that reason.

  3. With the number of vaccines administered and the amount of compensated petitions, your risk of injury is around 0.0000007544%. Just a little lower than one in a million.

  4. If only 6,430 cases have been compensated, and around 4 billion dollars have been awarded, that’s an average of about $622,083 for each case/individual. That is in no way a bad thing, as this covers both court expenses, fees, as well as compensation awarded to the petitioner. You’re having around 200 people a year that have legitimate injuries, and those people are being cared for by this program. Isn’t that what antivaxxers want in the first place?

  5. Comparing the number of lives saved in the US by the damages shows how important vaccines are. “The CDC estimates that vaccinations will prevent more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years.” The W.H.O stated at least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015 thanks to vaccinations delivered around the world. That’s only a 5-year time span.

Part 3: What does this all mean?

With the VICP being used as a main-staple assertion by anti-vaxxers all throughout the country, understanding the reality of the program is important. With so many anti-vaxxers claiming the government isn’t trustworthy, it’s important to understand that the government is, in fact, aiding the very few genuinely vaccine injured people.

Vaccines save lives, and the VICP proves the dangers of vaccines are far less hazardous than the diseases they prevent. Keep this in mind the next time you speak to someone who has been led to believe the VICP is a government scheme and payout for countless maimed children. That’s not the case.

It’s not a coincidence that again and again we see these arguments against vaccines prove nothing to conclude otherwise.

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