Personal Injury

Are Drug Companies Liable for Effects of Vaccines?

Who is liable when drugs aren't dispensed correctly? The pharmacy, drug companies or both? Watch out for prescription mistakes.
  • Update: Who is liable when drugs aren't dispensed correctly? The pharmacy, drug companies or both? Watch out for prescription mistakes
  • In April 2010, the US Supreme Court agreed to decide whether parents can hold a pharmaceutical company liable for their child's vaccine-related side-effects
  • Normally, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) pays victims for vaccine-related injuries
  • The VICP doesn't always pay, however
  • Know what to do when it comes to vaccinating your child


Don't forget to be a smart consumer when filling your prescriptions. One customer of a grocery store pharmacy learned the hard way when there was a mistake in filling her prescription.

The customer filled her prescription for a fertility drug. However, she was given an anti-depressant, took a dose, and suffered an allergic reaction. Emergency room treatment kept her from going into shock.

The pharmacy told the customer there was a mistake in filling her order. The two drugs had names that sounded and looked similar. The pharmacy told a news station it viewed the situation seriously and was taking action to address any problems.

Another issue to think about is whether the drug companies have any responsibility. Should the names of the drugs have been more distinct, or the appearance of the pills? Be an informed patient and a smart customer. Take the time to know what to expect at the pharmacy counter, and don't be shy about asking questions and getting answers. It's your health.

Original Article

Many of us vaccinate our children against diseases to keep them safe and healthy. Sometimes, things don't go as planned and the child suffers serious side-effects and health-related problems, perhaps because of the vaccine. What do you do then?

Are Drug Companies Liable?

In April 2010, the US Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about whether parents can hold a pharmaceutical company liable for their child's vaccine-related side-effects.

In 1992, when Hannah Bruesewitz was six-months old, she was given a dose of the DTaP vaccine. It's meant to prevent children from getting three diseases: Diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis. Unlike millions of other US children who received the vaccine before and after her, she suffered serious side-effects. Almost immediately after the injection, she went into convulsions.

In 2010, at the age of 17, Hannah suffers from convulsions and developmental disorders - problems she'll likely have for the rest of her life.

Eventually, Hannah's parents sued the vaccine's manufacturer, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals. They lost, primarily because two federal courts, including a federal appeals court, found Wyeth couldn't be sued in the fist place. That's because the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 bars lawsuits against drug companies for money or "compensation" for vaccine-related injuries or deaths caused by vaccines they make.

The US Supreme Court will decide in the Fall of 2010 if the courts were wrong and Hannah's parents should be able to sue Wyeth.

National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)

Normally, when patients suffer injuries because of vaccinations, they may ask for compensation from the VICP. The VICP was created by the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. The Act is designed to shield pharmaceutical companies from lawsuits in exchange for their continued efforts to make the vaccinations we need. So, because injured patients can't sue the drug companies, the VICP was created to pay them money damages.

The VICP only applies to certain vaccines, and one of them is the DTaP vaccine given to Hannah Bruesewitz. And, among other things, compensation is available if the injury or ill-effect of a vaccine lasts for more than six months after the vaccine was taken. Again, Hannah qualifies here.

However, Hannah and her family were denied VICP payments. Why? Because right around the time of her injury, the VICP list of covered injuries or side-effects was changed, and under those changes, Hannah wasn't covered. Hannah's parents then filed the lawsuit against Wyeth.

What You Can Do

When the time comes to vaccinate your child, you need to educate yourself. Your doctor or health care provider should give you an information sheet about the vaccine, including information about the VICP. You can also get this information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

You should discuss any questions or concerns you have with your child's doctor. Then, it's time to make a choice. There may be minor side-effects with any vaccine, like a low fever or minor pain and swelling where the vaccine was injected. The odds a child will suffer serious injury or death are very low.

The decision: Is it safer to risk the side-effects or to risk your child getting the disease the vaccine is supposed to prevent? It's one only you can make.

If your child has serious side effects, you should seek medical attention immediately. If, like Hannah Bruesewitz, your child has long-term injuries or side-effects, you should contact the VICP as soon as possible. You may also want to follow Hannah's lead and talk to an attorney. If you're denied VICP payments, you may be able to get the drug company to pay for her injuries.

Don't be shy or embarrassed, either. These types of lawsuits aren't always just about the money and getting rich. Far from it. Your child, like Hannah, may need medical care or attention for the rest of her life. And the simple fact is such long-term care is expensive. If a drug company caused the injury, it should have to pay for your child's care.

There's another benefit from these types of suits. If a drug company can be held liable for its mistakes, the odds are it will work hard to make sure the mistake doesn't happen. And other companies will try their best to make sure their vaccines are safe.

We have our children vaccinated to keep them safe and healthy. In the vast majority of cases, the vaccinations work with no ill-effects. But when something tragic happens, parents should be able to get help from somewhere. If the VICP can't or won't pay, perhaps the drug companies should.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How long will it take for the VICP to approve or deny my application for compensation? What can I do if the money we get doesn't cover all of my child's long-term care needs?
  • If the Supreme Court decides Hannah's parents can sue Wyeth, can I file a lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company over my child's injuries that happened five years ago? What if the injuries began 10 years ago or longer?
  • The drug company that made my child's vaccine no longer exists; it was bought by another company. Does that mean I can't file lawsuit over my child's vaccine-related injuries?
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