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BMJ finds US Covid vaccine injury claims system “costly and opaque”

An investigation by Maryanne Demasi for the British Medical Journal has found that “America’s system for covid vaccine injury claims is costly, opaque, and yet to issue a single payout”.

The commissioned investigation also found that the system set up to deal with Covid-19 vaccine injuries forced patients to provide a higher burden of proof than with previous vaccine injuries, and the lack of transparency in the system was described by one law professor at George as “frightening”.

The BMJ might be surprised to learn that, in Ireland, no such injury claims system even exists, with our Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, recently telling the Dáil that there are “no plans at present for the introduction in Ireland of a COVID-19 specific vaccine compensation scheme”.

Demasi noted that the US had established a separate compensation program from its National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for Covid vaccine injuries, but that this led to a  “more costly, opaque, and less generous system that has yet to pay out on a single claim for covid vaccines”.

She spoke to those who believe they have been injured by Covid vaccines – and who were horrified to learn that their claims have been made more difficult to process.  “Senators, lawyers, doctors, and [those injured] are questioning why patients injured by vaccines are being routed into a scheme they view as inferior,” she says.

Critics say that the CICP is inferior to the VICP in terms of its payouts and the way claims are assessed. Only the most serious injuries and death are compensated, claims have to be made within a year after vaccination, and it has a higher burden of proof than the VICP. Loss of income under the CICP is limited to $50 000 (£38 250; €45 900) a year, and no compensation is included for pain or emotional distress. Under the VICP, payouts for lost wages are not capped, and compensation for pain and suffering is awarded up to $250 000,” she writes.

Since 1988 compensation has been awarded in 36% of the 24 909 claims filed under the VICP, with around $4.7bn paid out. In contrast, compensation has been awarded for just 0.4% of the 7547 claims filed under the CICP, with around $6m paid out. The vast majority (93%) of the claims handled by the CICP have been filed during the covid pandemic, of which 4097 relate to injuries or deaths from covid vaccines and 2959 relate to other covid countermeasures.

To date, only one of the covid claims has been deemed compensable, although no money has been paid yet. In contrast, Thailand’s National Health Security Office reports compensating over 14 000 people around $50m to settle covid vaccine injury claims through a process that promises quick financial assistance.

The piece raises concerns for outcomes for those who feel they may have been injured by the vaccine in other jurisdictions, such as Ireland, where the public focus rapidly switched from Covid to the war in the Ukraine.

One Irish law firm bringing compensation claims over Covid-19 vaccine injuries has previously called for a specific statutory system to be set up to deal with such claims. Liam Moloney, a partner at Moloney & Co Solicitors, says a number of people have contacted his firm to say they fell seriously ill following vaccination. Mr Moloney said such a scheme would avoid people with “extremely rare” injuries having to “run the risk of very uncertain litigation”.

In addition, Michael Boylan, founding partner at Michael Boylan Litigation Firm in Dublin, told The Times that a compensation scheme “has been promised for decades and I think the government should honour their long promise”. He said his firm had received around 30 inquiries from people who said they had suffered “serious adverse consequences” as a result of Covid-19 vaccination.

Yet, as the Minister confirmed, there are no plans for such a scheme in Ireland.

The British Medical Journal’s investigation spoke to one woman injured by the vaccine who said she felt like “collateral damage” in the fight against Covid.

After being vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson covid vaccine on 14 March 2021 Michelle Zimmerman from Seattle developed severe pain, loss of movement in her left arm, and problems with her cognition, memory, speech, and eyesight. Different specialists gave a primary diagnosis of a “severe vaccine reaction” .

Unable to return to work as a high school leader, teacher, and education researcher and aided by parents who were taking care of her, she submitted medical reports to her insurance company. The insurer granted her claim, agreeing that the evidence proved that her disability began on the day she was vaccinated.

Zimmerman then prepared to apply for compensation through the CICP. Before submitting, she called administrators for clarity on what standards of proof were needed to show that her injuries were vaccine related. The CICP was unable to provide an answer, she tells The BMJ. “So, that was the first part that really concerned me,” she says. “If you don’t have a high level education or, like me, are going through severe cognitive vision problems, it’s incredibly excruciating and difficult to try to even get through the instructions of how you would establish proof—what would count and what doesn’t count.”

Zimmerman submitted her application on 1 October 2021 and received an automatic confirmation email. She then emailed administrators to get written confirmation of her submission, but she says that she was then left in limbo because the CICP does not provide a timeline for when claimants should expect to hear a response. After calling repeatedly to check the status of her claim, in November she received a phone call from a CICP administrator who told her that there was no record of her application.

She was horrified. As a researcher and author, she knew the importance of good governance around people’s medical records. “You don’t just lose things like that,” she says. She was told that it was not possible to talk to any supervisors and that the only route available was to resubmit her application.

But the CICP has a time limit: it accepts claims only if filed within a year of receiving a covid vaccine. “Had I not called and written so often, I would not have known that they lost all record of me until it was too late to resubmit,” she says. She has still not received a case number or written confirmation of her submission.

The experience has left her with little confidence in the system and with concern for others, especially disadvantaged groups. “If I can’t navigate the system with a PhD, what hope is there for someone else?” she asks. “You have no resources for attorney support. You have no one who has expertise who can go through medical journals for you. If I didn’t have disability insurance, I don’t know what I would do.”

 

The investigation can be read in full here

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