FREE ACCESS: Unlike U.S. and Program for 90-Plus Other Countries, Jamaica Has No Vaccine Injury Compensation Program Even As Adverse Events Rise
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As the Jamaican government requires vaccinations for students 12 and over in order to resume face-to-face classes and more adults get inoculated amid an unprecedented surge in coronavirus cases, 18º North has confirmed that the country doesn’t have a compensation program should someone get injured from the vaccine.
The confirmation comes as the overseer of the vaccination program for the Ministry of Health & Wellness Dr. Melody Ennis told 18º North that, as of August 24, there were 303 notifications of adverse events related to the vaccine, up from 249 at the time of her last report on July 29. Dr. Ennis said that she didn’t have the breakdown of serious events and deaths, but that 290 were related to the AstraZeneca brand rolled out in the country in March, and 13 were from the Pfizer, which was added to the vaccine mix this month.
The lack of a compensation program means that, unlike countries, including the U.S. and 92 others facilitated by the World Health Organization (WHO), anyone seeking damages in Jamaica for an alleged vaccine injury will have to sue the government in court, according to the permanent secretary in the health ministry, Dunstan Bryan.
“We didn’t establish such a fund,” said Mr. Bryan when asked about the process for filing a claim. “It’s a normal process of how you file a claim against government.” He further clarified that that meant through lawsuits.
Video: In early public utterances, Permanent Secretary Dunstan Bryan said the government would compensate persons claiming vaccine damage once the ill-effect is deemed to have been caused by vaccination. However, he did not give details on the process until more recently to 18º North.
Mr. Bryan stated that in order to have secured vaccines, the Jamaican government had to indemnify the manufacturers, AstraZeneca and Pfizer and the most recent addition, Johnson & Johnson, exposing the government to liability if someone gets injured. However, Mr. Bryan said that, as of August 25, the ministry hadn’t made any payouts nor had it received any claims.
Even if a claim is filed, winning in a Jamaican court might be difficult.
One U.S. vaccine injury attorney Anne Carrión Toale told 18º North, “Primary doctors don’t have expertise to figure out vaccine-related causes, not here and not there [in Jamaica].”
“When vaccine injuries are contested, we have to prove our case using one or more Ivy League level experts such as immunologists and/or other specialists from fields like neurology or cardiology,” she said.
Billions Paid Out for alleged vaccine injuries in the U.S.
Since 1988, the U.S. has paid out about US$4.6 billion to around 8,000 of more than 24,000 claimants under a no-fault system called the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), popularly known as vaccine court. VICP was set up after lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers and healthcare providers threatened to cause vaccine shortages and reduce immunization rates. It’s funded by an excise tax on each vaccine.
Under U.S. law, persons must first exhaust their remedies under the VICP before they can pursue legal action against vaccine manufacturers or administrators unless their claim is valued at US$1,000 or less.
If a person’s alleged injury is listed in a predetermined table of medical conditions known to be associated with a vaccine - like anaphylaxis, shoulder injury from vaccine administration or Guillain-Barré Syndrome - and it occurs within a specified timeframe, then it’s generally presumed that the vaccine was the cause of the injury.
Compensation can also be gotten for alleged injuries outside of the table as long as causation from the vaccine can be proved, and even when such a finding is not made, monetary settlements can still be negotiated and are often awarded.
Covid-19 vaccines fall under a different program, however, since they have not yet been approved for routine use in children or pregnant women and have not yet been subject to an excise tax by federal law and added to VICP. (There is pending legislation to speed up the process of bringing these vaccines under VICP.)
Under this Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), payouts are fewer and tend to be smaller - about US$210,000 on average per successful claim compared to more than US$560,000 under the VICP. As of August 2, mostly all of the 686 claims related to Covid-19 vaccines were still pending, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, the agency that runs both programs. One claim was already denied compensation because the standard of proof for causation was not met and, or a covered injury was not sustained.
COVAX Compensation Scheme for Vaccine Injuries
A similar no-fault scheme involving 92 nations was set up in February with the support of the WHO to compensate persons who suffer a serious adverse event with a Covid-19 vaccine resulting in permanent injuryor death without having to resort to the courts. Affected persons can apply to the scheme until June 30 of next year as long as the vaccine was administered in one of these nations and was received through the special facility for low and middle-income countries to access the drugs, known as COVAX.
Jamaica received vaccines through COVAX, but it is not among the 92 that are eligible for this compensation scheme.
That’s because, unlike those nations, including the Caribbean islands of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, that received donations of vaccines through COVAX and whose donors pay a levy on each vaccine toward the compensation fund, Jamaica self-financed its vaccines through the program.
“Jamaica, as a Self-Financing Participant, is not eligible to the No Fault Compensation Scheme (NFC),” the COVAX media relations team responded by email to 18º North. “ ‘Self-financing’ means the economies are covering the cost of vaccines they receive through COVAX as well as all associated costs.”
When asked about the COVAX compensation program, Permanent Secretary Bryan didn’t seem to know about it, saying only, “I don’t know this document.”
At a press conference with Prime Minister Andrew Holness on August 9, 18º North asked whether the country would consider implementing a compensation program for vaccine injuries, but none of the panelists, including the prime minister, responded. Mr. Bryan also didn’t answer a later question sent on WhatsApp about whether there was talk of establishing such a scheme.
The pro-family, pro-life organization, Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society, raised the issue of liability in a petition that’s received more than 14 thousand signatures against the *coercion of parents in getting their children vaccinated and stands for the preservation of parental choice.
Chairman Dr. Wayne West told 18º North that for those who choose to join the government in its efforts to minimize the spread of the coronavirus and then get injured, they shouldn’t have to file a claim in court.
“There should be an infrastructure that the person can go to that someone can assess them together with the person’s representative and they come to some kind of conclusion,” he reasoned. “Why create animus between the government and the people when they’re both working for the same objective?”
Jamaica’s Reports of Serious Adverse Events Have Risen Ninefold Since April
That Jamaica is without a compensation program may become more apparent and problematic as the free or low-cost public healthcare facilities become overrun with record numbers of Covid cases, and some people may have no choice but to pay out of pocket in the private medical system to treat any adverse effects from the vaccine. The need for specialized treatment to treat vaccine injuries in some cases may even force persons to seek medical attention overseas, incurring higher costs.
For the serious adverse events where compensation becomes more necessary, Dr. Ennis revealed on July 29 that of the 249 total number of reports at that time, 46 were in that category. These included serious allergic reactions from which persons “have fully recovered.” There were also 11 deaths, nine of which were deemed coincidental and “not caused by the vaccine.” Two others were indeterminate.
The 46 serious reports would reflect a ninefold increase from the five the ministry reported at its first public presentation on the topic on April 14. Total adverse reports would have more than tripled from the 76 initially stated. Meanwhile, over that same time period, the number of vaccine doses administered had merely doubled to 305,000. (The ministry has not released the number of serious adverse reports since July.)
Dr. Ennis explained that the increase may reflect a lag in reporting as incidents from much earlier are taking time to be received at the national level.
“The ministry is working assiduously at improving the timing of the reports,” she said.
If and when they come in, merely receiving more of these reports won’t necessarily mean that these side effects are being caused by the vaccine.
Helen Petousis-Harris, co-head of the Global Vaccine Data Network in New Zealand, a multi-nation research network that recently embarked on a study of 300 million to assess the safety of Covid-19 vaccines with funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wrote to 18º North, “A strong reporting system will receive many reports, even if they are not causally related to the vaccine.”
“Only by receiving many reports is it possible to see potential safety signals in these systems,” emailed Dr. Petousis-Harris, a former WHO adviser on vaccine safety. She recommends the government use SMS (text) messaging to check in with persons who took the vaccine to elicit even more reports so they can better monitor vaccine safety.
Still, with Jamaica recently crossing the milestone of 500,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered and a far way to go since only about 7% of the target population is fully vaccinated, it’s likely that the number of adverse events will grow, further justifying the need for a compensation program.
“Injury will inevitably occur in the effort to benefit the community. So therefore we need to work together to see how we can minimize injury or the consequence of injury,” said Dr. West of the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society. “When injuries do occur, getting compensation shouldn’t be adversarial.”
*The education ministry later clarified that face-to-face classes will get underway once 65% of students at that particular school are vaccinated, which would still imply that some students will be required to get vaccinated.
All undated figures are as of the first date this story was published on August 31.
Correction: Headline corrected to add the word “Plus”, which was mistakenly left out.
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