Congress should set up Vaccine Injury Compensation Program —funded by Sanofi and Aquino

THE Senate blue ribbon committee’s investigation of the Dengvaxia debacle should not only unearth information for the courts to convict and throw in jail former President Benigno Aquino 3rd and his accomplices for what is turning out to be the most horrible case of corruption in the country.

The committee should recommend the enactment of a law that would set up a program to assist and compensate not only the victims of this diabolical mass-vaccination program, but of other vaccinations in the past and in the future.

About 20 countries in the world, including Germany (the first to do so, in 1961) and the US (in 1986), have set up what they call the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). The program was set up in these countries because of the recognition that while vaccines—such as those against smallpox, measles and tetanus—have indisputably prevented certain diseases and saved the lives of millions, they are not without risks, and in many cases resulted in horrible, adverse effects on people.

The program addresses two different issues.

First, it allows those injured by vaccines, because of its side-effects, to seek compensation and hospital care without having to go through the tedious, and very expensive, process of suing pharmaceutical firms which, after all, are huge corporations with well-funded legal war-chests.

Second, the VICP has the effect of encouraging the production and supply, as well as acceptance, of vaccines as there is a mechanism for compensating victims without resulting in severe financial costs to the manufacturers.

In the US, the process for claiming a vaccine injury involves the US Court of Federal Claims, its Department of Health and Human Services, and a special court-appointed “master” who decides whether the petitioner should be compensated.

Since it was set up in 1986, the VICP in the US has so far paid out a huge $3.5 billion in 5,825 cases out of 19,021 petitions, an indication that even the most trusted and time-tested vaccines still carry some risks.

We definitely need such a VICP as vaccinations here are so routinely administered to the poor, as what happened in the Dengvaxia program when that new vaccine was so carelessly administered to 830,000 youth, whose trusting parents agreed to do so as these were undertaken through the school system.

The poor obviously don’t have the financial and legal means to pursue compensation if they suffer injury because of the side-effects of a vaccine. Not only that. The poor family of someone injured from the side-effects of a vaccine would probably be spending their entire life-savings for the necessary medical costs.

The Dengvaxia debacle has also revealed a crucial weakness in our health system: We don’t have a monitoring system for each child vaccinated to determine if he or she has been adversely affected by a vaccine.

In the Dengvaxia program, the health department has been unable still to report to the public exactly who were vaccinated with the defective drug, whether they had dengue or not when they were vaccinated, and whether they have contracted dengue since. Without such data, nobody really knows if that Dengvaxia administered to 830,000 people even works. And Sanofi had claimed it worked in its trials for jut 30,000 people.

The law that set up the US’ VICP, The National Vaccine Injury Act, was a comprehensive one, which our lawmakers should emulate. The law, other than setting up the monitoring system, included a number of regulations related to informed consent and adverse event reporting. For example, the act required that providers administering certain vaccines provide a vaccine information statement to the vaccine recipient or a legal guardian.

The US VICP was funded through a 75-cemt tax per dose on vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for routine administration to children.

Such a tax in our own VICP is certainly inconceivable. If administered by private doctors, such a tax would only raise the cost of vaccines, discouraging their use. Most of our vaccination programs are undertaken by government, so that the exercise would only mean government taxing itself.

The initial fund for the VICP should logically and morally be raised from the P3 billion paid to Sanofi for its defective Dengvaxia, most probably in anomalous circumstances that the Senate should unearth. Health Secretary Francisco Duque 3rd in fact has already announced that his department will ask for a full refund “because the purported or reported or claimed protection [of Dengvaxia]wasn’t felt and wasn’t there. ”

If ever Aquino and his accomplices are convicted of corruption for this Dengvaxia racket, part of their punishment should be the imposition of huge penalties that would be used to fund our VIC.

Filed under: Manila Times Columns

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