To spread awareness of vaccine safety, New York Times reporters Pam Belluck and Reed Abelson wrote a comprehensive report about vaccine injury claim data. Using information from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, they discovered that for every one million doses of all immunizations in the United States from 2006-2017, there were about two claims of injury.
The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP) was established by federal law in 1988 by the United States Health Resources and Services Administration as a result of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. According to the NVICP’s website, the program’s objectives are to “ensure an adequate supply of vaccines, stabilize vaccine costs, and establish and maintain an accessible and efficient forum for individuals found to be injured by certain vaccines.”
In addition to the 15 childhood vaccines, the program also covers the seasonal flu shot. According to Belluck and Abelson’s research, many of the program’s payments in recent years relate to flu shots involving adults. From 2006 to 2017, more than 1.5 billion doses of the flu shot were administered, and fewer than 3,500 injury claims were filed. Their research shows that many of those claims were shoulder injuries not related to the formulation of the vaccine.
Belluck and Abelson reported that of the billions of vaccine doses administered in the United States in the past 30 years, only about 21,000 official injury claims were filed. Of the 85% of these claims (approximately 18,000) that were processed so far, only 6,551 received compensation while the rest were dismissed. Most of the compensated claims (70%) were settlements in which sufficient evidence of injury could not be linked directly back to the vaccine. According to the NVICP website, settlements may be negotiated “[if] both parties decide to minimize the risk of loss through settlement; [to] minimize time and expense of litigating a case; or [because of] the desire to resolve a petition quickly.”
The NYT reporters use measles as an example to demonstrate vaccine safety. They report that the data they analyzed shows that “the likelihood of serious harm if a person contract measles in much greater than the chance of being injured from the measles vaccine.” According to their research, one to two of every 1,000 people who get the measles are likely to die from it, and injury claims were filed for only two out of every one million doses of the measles vaccine.
Skeptics point to the existence of the program and the number of payouts given as evidence that vaccines are dangerous. However, public health experts such as Dr. H. Cody Meissner—who also serves on the NVICP’s advisory committee—consider the data as evidence of vaccine safety. As he told the New York Times reporters, “the overwhelming number of vaccine injections are completely safe and not associated with any adverse events.”