OTTAWA -- The federal government has added $36.4 million to a program designed to support people who have been seriously injured or killed by vaccines since the end of 2020.

The program was announced shortly after COVID-19 shots first became available to the public, and provides financial compensation to people who were adversely affected by Health Canada-approved vaccines.

The Liberals earmarked $75 million for the first five years of the program. To date, a private firm called OXARO has received $56.2 million from Ottawa to run the program and pay out valid claims that originate outside of Quebec.

As of December, the firm has paid $11.2 million in compensation.

Quebec has had its own vaccine injury compensation program since 1985, and received $7.75 million when the federal program launched.

The Liberal government set aside another $36 million for OXARO and Quebec to cover the next two years of the program as part of the federal budget tabled in the House of Commons last week.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says it contracted the work to OXARO to ensure the impartiality of the claims process.

"OXARO operates independently and at arm's length from PHAC," a spokesperson for the department said in a statement.

"This means that PHAC has no involvement in program delivery, including assessment of claims or appeals of claims."

The cost of the program is dependent on how many people apply for compensation, the spokesperson said.

As of December, OXARO has received 2,233 claims and approved 138 of them.

The available statistics do not specify which vaccines were involved.

The program was launched during the COVID-19 pandemic, but covers injuries and deaths associated with vaccines approved for any illness, as long as they were administered after Dec. 8, 2020.

At the time, the department underscored that a serious adverse reaction to a vaccine is extremely rare — affecting less than one in a million people — but that the government has a duty to help if a reaction does happen.

A little less than a year later, Ottawa made it mandatory to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to travel by plane or train, or to work for the federal public service.

To be eligible for compensation, the patient or their beneficiary must be able to prove they suffered a severe, life-threatening or life-altering injury that resulted in a persistent or significant disability, incapacity, a birth defect or death.

More than 105 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been administered since Dec. 14, 2020, and 0.01 per cent led to serious adverse effects, Health Canada data show.

Of the 488 deaths reported after people were vaccinated for COVID-19, four were directly linked to the shot, the most recent Health Canada report indicates.

Quebec saw an uptick in claims to its vaccine injury compensation program during the pandemic, from one claim in 2020 to 98 in both 2021 and 2022.

Only three of those cases had been approved for compensation as of March 2023.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 24, 2024.