Compensation for Vaccine Damage

Pywell, Stephanie (2001). Compensation for Vaccine Damage. PhD thesis University of Hertfordshire.


Vaccination aims to prevent infectious disease, and is internationally acclaimed as a major contributor to public health. Although vaccines have many benefits, there are people who claim that they or their infant children have been injured, often permanently and severely, by the powerful biological agents introduced into their bodies by vaccination.

The object of this thesis is to determine whether the law in England and Wales relating to vaccine damage is in need of reform. The answer to this question is determined by a moral and legal analysis of current vaccination policy and practice.

The existing literature consists primarily of medical papers discussing the possibility of vaccine damage and legal discourses concerning compensation and consent to treatment. Detailed background information comes from in-depth semi-structured interviews with a consultant epidemiologist at the Public Health Laboratory Service and three organisers of Justice Awareness Basic Support (JABS), a vaccine information and support group.

The main originality of the thesis is the information provided by approximately 360 responses to each of two surveys. Parents of pre-school children were surveyed about their experiences of, and views on, current vaccination policy and practice. Members of JABS who believe their children to be vaccine-damaged provided information about the vaccines which appear to have caused harm, as well as their experiences of, and views on, the legal routes to financial redress.

The findings provide evidence of a dearth of reliable medical data about vaccine safety, and of some ethically unacceptable practices associated with infant vaccination. They also reveal that, theoretically and in the view of users, legal provision for the victims of vaccine damage in England and Wales is unsatisfactory.

These factors combine to indicate that the law relating to compensation for vaccine damage is in need of reform. The thesis therefore concludes with suggestions for further research and some modifications to current law and policy. There should be a statutory scheme awarding compensatory, rather than token, payments to victims. Awards should be made subject to a generous test of causation, such as that which exists in respect of the US Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. Incentive payments to GPs should be discontinued, parents should be offered choices of vaccine, and vaccine promotional literature for healthcare workers and parents should present a balanced view of all available research.

Above all, it is essential that these measures be supported by large-scale, independent medical research into the nature of possible links between vaccines and damage.

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