The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) was established by Congress in 1986 as part of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act (NCVIA), driven in part by a scare over the diphtheria–pertussis–tetanus (DPT) vaccine, concerns that were later generally discredited. Most public health officials believed that the claims of side effects were unfounded, but some families in the United States won substantial awards from sympathetic juries who were convinced otherwise. As a result, many companies stopped making the DPT vaccine. Health officials feared the consequences of lower immunization rates, and Congress responded by passing the NCVIA. The NCVIA was a piece of legislation that was meant to clarify rights and obligations for all parties involved, including patients, pediatricians, drug manufacturers and the government. A special section of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, the so-called “Vaccine Court,” administers VICP awards. The NCVIA also established the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
The Vaccine Court is different from the traditional legal system in that it operates under a “no fault” standard. This standard means that if an injury occurred within a defined period of time following the administration of the vaccine, then the court would assume causality without further evidence. The claimant does not need to prove everything that is required to hold a vaccine maker liable in a product liability lawsuit. In the VICP context, proof of causation does not need to be shown to the extent of what some might call scientific certainty. Rather, it suffices to prove causation according to the civil-law standard of “the preponderance of the evidence,” showing that causation is “more likely than not.” Although proving a mere possibility won’t suffice, proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” is not required.
Injury awards are determined based on the NCVIA Reporting and Compensation Tables (VIT), which lists each covered vaccine, its associated adverse events, and the allowable interval from vaccination to onset of event. The Table lists and explains injuries/conditions that are presumed to be caused by vaccines. If an injury/condition is not on the Table or did not occur within the time period on the Table, the individual must prove that the vaccine caused the injury/condition. Autism has not been added to the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act Reporting and Compensation Tables (VIT) for any vaccine. Through a special program established in 2002 called the Omnibus Autism Proceeding, the NCIVP has found that the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine given alone or with thimerosal-containing vaccines (TCVs) is not a causal factor in autism, nor are TCVs alone a causal factor in autism.
Like any other medicine, some people can react adversely to vaccines. This can happen even with common medicines that are widely considered harmless, such as Tylenol. The VICP establishes a course of action for peopled harmed by vaccines. These people, to some degree, have assumed the risk of adverse event on behalf of the society in which they live. Therefore, many governments have adopted the position that it is fair and reasonable to compensate those who are harmed by properly manufactured vaccines. A decision not to immunize a child also involves risk.