Details sparse on vaccine injury compensation fund, amid calls for speedier rollout
TORONTO -- Three months after it was announced, details remain sparse about a federal fund meant to provide assistance in the rare event someone experience a serious side effect from a COVID-19 vaccine.
On Dec. 10, 2020, the federal government announced it would launch a pan-Canadian vaccine injury support program to provide no-fault support to anyone who might experience a serious injury from a COVID-19 vaccine.
“The program will ensure that all Canadians have to have fair access to support in the rare event that they experience an adverse reaction to a vaccine,” the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) wrote in a news release at the time.
Three months later, no additional details of the program have been announced. In a statement, the PHAC said the government is “seeking to select an experienced third party” to administer the program, and that a call for proposals closed on Feb. 24.
“PHAC is currently evaluating the proposals received,” the statement read. “More details on the program will be provided when available.”
These programs offer funding in the rare event someone experiences a serious side-effect to a vaccine, while at the same time helping pharmaceutical companies to produce vaccines without fear of liability in these circumstances.
“If you’ve received the vaccine and you've suffered from severe adverse effects as a result of the vaccine, or what’s believed to be as a result of the vaccine, then there is some sort of funding for you,” Jasmine Daya, a personal injury lawyer and managing partner of Jasmine Daya & Co., explained in a phone interview with CTVNews.ca.
“The scheme can take many forms. It can be a lump sum. It can be a payment – a form of payment plan over a term -- but it's really up to the government to decide how they want to implement it, how they want to structure it, (and) how the approval process will occur.”
While serious reactions are extremely rare -- less than one in a million, according to PHAC -- they have happened.
One of Daya’s clients, a 58-year-old personal support worker, received the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in January and almost immediately experienced light-headedness, dizziness, and swelling of her lips and tongue. Eventually, the symptoms progressed to a weakness in her leg, numbness and tingling, and a facial droop.
While some of these symptoms have since subsided, Daya’s client has ongoing numbness and tingling on one side of her body to the point that she finds it difficult to work.
“She is deeply concerned,” Daya said. “She's the mother of four. Her youngest has a disability and she needs to work -- like many of us -- in order to support herself and her family.”
“The reason that this is so scary for my client is because if she stops working due to having taken this vaccine and having this adverse effect, how is she supposed to support herself? I mean, this is no fault of her own that she obtained this vaccine.”
CANADA LAGS BEHIND OTHER NATIONS
Canada is the only G7 nation without a no-fault vaccine fund, though Quebec has had a provincial program since 1987. The World Health Organization provides a fund for 92 low-and middle-income nations in the COVAX program.
“We've been lagging behind in in many fronts in terms of COVID-19. Look at where we stand in this great country with vaccine administration,” Daya said. “It's shocking to me that we are so far behind so many countries.”
In the U.S., claims are processed through the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which looks at cases of serious injuries caused by vaccines, medications or medical devices during a pandemic, epidemic or security threat.
Critics have noted that the CICP is much less generous than the U.S.’ other vaccine injury department, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), as it only compensates for the most serious injuries and has a higher burden of proof than the VICP. Claims must also be processed within one-year of receiving the vaccine, according to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In the U.K., anyone who can prove they’ve been disabled as a result of the COVID-19 vaccine is eligible to receive a tax-free lump sum of up to £120,000 through the country’s national Vaccine Damage Payments Scheme (VDPS). There are issues with the U.K. system as well as the application process can be complicated and the VDPS rejects upwards of 65 per cent of claims, according to commentary in the Lancet.
“There is no perfect program,” Daya said. “There is no perfect system, but I truly believe that a vaccine injury compensation program with a fund is -- regardless of it not being perfect -- something is better than nothing for these individuals.”
Daya said Canadians may never know what has taken so long for Canada to implement such a program.
“I recognize that the government at all levels have several competing matters to deal with, but the vaccine injury compensation program should be prioritized, not only to assist those with severe adverse effects but also to instill public confidence, especially those with vaccine hesitancy,” she said in an email.
According to CTVNews.ca’s national vaccine tracker, 7.26 per cent of Canadians have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.