COVID-19 vaccine claims yield small payouts from U.S. government

People receive their second COVID-19 boosters in Waterford, Michigan
A 50-year-old and immunocompromised resident receives a second booster shot of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Waterford, Michigan. REUTERS/Emily Elconin

(Reuters) - Of more than 8,000 people who filed claims with the federal government alleging injuries from COVID-19 vaccines, three have now received cash payouts, new government data shows.

Their combined compensation? Less than $5,000.

One person who had an anaphylactic reaction to the shot received $2,020 from the government’s Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program, or CICP.

Another who got myocarditis – an inflammation of the heart muscle – from the jab received $1,583, while a second myocarditis sufferer got $1,033, according to the data, which was released last week. A third myocarditis patient’s claim was approved but the person was denied compensation due to lack of eligible expenses.

I’ve been chronicling the flood of COVID-19 vaccine claims filed with the CICP since the early days of the pandemic.

That the CICP has doled out just three small awards confirms what I’ve come to believe: The government program is ill-suited to adjudicate these cases.

The no-fault tribunal run by the Health Resources and Services Administration is stymied by statute in the relief it can offer, with compensation limited to unreimbursed medical expenses and up to $50,000 a year in lost wages. A death benefit of up to $422,035 may also be available.

There’s no allowance for pain and suffering, no punitive damages, no attorneys’ fees, no public hearings or opinions, no right to judicial appeal. But it’s the only legal recourse available for the unlucky few who have experienced serious adverse effects from the vaccines.

To be clear, I'm no anti-vaxxer, and there's ample evidence that the shots have prevented millions of hospitalizations and deaths. Still, more than 260 million Americans have received at least one dose of the vaccine, which makes it all but inevitable that at least some will have adverse reactions.

The COVID-19 vaccine makers are indemnified by the government and are not party to CICP proceedings. Vaccine makers Pfizer Inc, Moderna Inc and Johnson & Johnson did not respond to my requests for comment.

“I can't imagine anyone is happy with these payouts,” Renée Gentry, director of the Vaccine Injury Litigation Clinic at George Washington University Law School, told me. “These are nuisance value amounts — the kind of awards that are very upsetting to the vaccine injured person and can drive the anger and vaccine hesitancy we see.”

A CICP spokesperson in an email said the program is "the payer of last resort and can only reimburse or pay for reasonable medical services or items, or lost employment income that are not covered by other third-party payers, such as health insurance, Veterans Affairs benefits, or Workers’ Compensation."

The vaccine makers' liability shield stems from a 2020 declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra last week announced will be amended even as the public health emergency is slated to expire on May 11. (President Joe Biden signed legislation ending the COVID-19 national emergency on April 10.)

Amending the act will extend liability protection for “All COVID-19 vaccines and treatments for which distribution is currently directed by the United States Government.”

To Siri & Glimstad name partner Aaron Siri, who said his 25-lawyer firm has been contacted by thousands of people who believe they’ve suffered serious injuries from COVID-19 vaccines, the “need for another avenue for compensation is essential.”

By and large, lawyers who specialize in vaccine injury cases are not representing clients before the CICP. The prospects of recovery are too slim to justify the expense.

It’s not just that the awards tend to be small. It’s that winning at all is a long-shot.

To prevail, petitioners have to clear a towering hurdle, producing “compelling, reliable, valid medical and scientific evidence” showing they suffered a serious injury that was the “direct result” of the vaccine.

Given the newness of the shots, such iron-clad evidence is in short supply. To date, the CICP has decided a total of 706 COVID treatment-related claims — and rejected 97% of them from people claiming a range of ailments such as heart attacks, meningitis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, seizures and death.

Of the 22 successful claimants — 18 of whom are still waiting to hear how much money they’ll get – almost all suffered inflammatory conditions like myocarditis that affect the heart.

To my mind, there’s a better way handle the claims: move them to a more generous and well-established forum, the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, which already hears injury claims for 16 common vaccines.

Vaccine makers here are also shielded from liability. Instead, payouts (including attorneys’ fees) are funded by a 75-cent tax per vaccine, with $4.9 billion awarded to plaintiffs since the program’s inception in 1988.

Moving the cases will take congressional action, as well as a bump in resources for the already-swamped vaccine court. But it offers a path to aid thousands of people waiting to have their claims heard.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

Thomson Reuters

Jenna Greene writes about legal business and culture, taking a broad look at trends in the profession, faces behind the cases, and quirky courtroom dramas. A longtime chronicler of the legal industry and high-profile litigation, she lives in Northern California. Reach Greene at