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Will the COVID-19 vaccine be safe?

As COVID-19 cases are still climbing all over the country, there’s a silver lining: We are getting closer to the rollout of a COVID-19 vaccine. At this point, it’s pretty clear that Pfizer is the pharmaceutical company leading the pursuit, with Moderna on its heels. But with that news has also come unsupported arguments that the vaccine isn’t safe due to the speed of getting it on the market. However, the FDA said this week that the vaccine by Pfizer was not only highly effective, but that it does not raise any specific safety concerns. 

In general though, the odds are extremely low that someone will have an adverse reaction to any vaccine — so low that individuals are often urged not to let that small possibility deter them from getting vaccinations. However, amid all the conversation about an impending COVID-19 vaccine, it is worthwhile to understand what’s available when one of those rare cases does occur, just to be informed and prepared. David Carney, a partner at Green & Schafle, LLC who focuses his practice on victims injured by vaccines, wrote a guest post earlier this fall about the options as he sees them. I recommend that you check out that post for a thorough explanation from someone who knows the ins and outs of the options for injured individuals.

In a nutshell, our government does have a couple of programs in place for when an individual experiences an adverse reaction. Anyone who suffers a serious injury directly caused by the administration of the COVID-19 vaccination will likely be covered by the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP), which pays for victims’ medical services and lost wages that are not covered by insurers or third-party payers. It also compensates certain survivors of individuals who die as a direct result of a CICP-covered vaccination. However, as David Carney points out, “This program, which has only paid out 39 claims totaling $5.7 million since it began in 2009, is extremely limited in that it fails to compensate for pain and suffering and will not pay for the victims’ attorneys’ fees.” There is also another (more robust) compensation program, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP), which covers adverse reactions from other vaccines. The VICP is a no-fault process for resolving vaccine injury claims involving these vaccines and rare injuries. The VICP is funded by a small tax on each dose of routine vaccine administration to children, which is then used to compensate people who suffer adverse reactions. For a vaccine to be covered by the VICP, it must be recommended by the CDC for routine administration to children or pregnant women, subject to an excise tax by federal law, and officially added to the program. This has not been done for any COVID-19 vaccines to date.

One thing to note about these compensation programs is that pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer and Moderna, are not on the hook for adverse reactions to their vaccines – the system shifts liability for vaccines from the drugmakers to the government. So, what happens when a person suffers one of these serious injuries from a vaccine and obtains compensation from the government? Are there specific financial planning strategies available with respect to this type of settlement compensation? 

The short answer is yes. Someone who receives compensation for a vaccine injury can work with an expert to ensure the money is beneficial for as long as possible. And for some claimants, this step in planning is actually critical to keep their government benefits.

As you might imagine, some of the severe vaccine injuries can render a person disabled under the criteria of the government, which means they’ll begin to qualify for programs like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid. But if they receive compensation from the government through the CICP or VICP, they could go back to not qualifying for those benefits. That’s because these programs are based on how much income a person has – if they cross that threshold, that means no more Medicaid or SSI. In these situations, proper planning is needed to help a claimant receive their vaccine injury compensation while still keeping benefits.

When it’s appropriate, one of the strongest tools to achieve this financial homeostasis is a special needs trust. A special needs trust is an account that a person can establish to use some of the settlement money to pay for things that their government benefits won’t cover. Some examples of the services, expenses, or equipment one can buy with the funds in their trust include: a home, home furnishings and personal belongings, a vehicle, a college degree or vocational training, essentials for self-support, life insurance policies, and burial expenses. Money in a special needs trust does not count as income when determining SSI and Medicaid eligibility, so beneficiaries can stay under the income threshold while still using their vaccine injury compensation for things they need.

Medicare compliance is another important consideration for beneficiaries who have an adverse reaction to a vaccination and receive money from the government. For some, a Medicare set aside is the answer. Funds are established under an insured account and act as a good-faith effort to pay for future care without relying solely on Medicare (which must always be a “secondary payer” of a beneficiary’s medical needs). In other words, a Medicare set aside would cover future vaccine injury-related medical expenses that would otherwise be payable by Medicare. Funds may be managed by the injured plaintiff or administered through a custodial account. By doing the extra legwork to get this fund going, victims can avoid the threat of losing Medicare.

It’s probably pretty clear by now that there are many components involved with establishing and administering a special needs trust or a Medicare set aside, so it is recommended that a family speak with a settlement planning expert to determine the best tools for an individual. My team at Milestone would be happy to answer any planning questions for anyone who is about to receive injury compensation. We also have a wide network of vaccine injury lawyers who have committed their careers to helping people who have had adverse reactions to vaccines. We would be happy to refer you to a vaccine trial lawyer if you need. 

But just to reiterate, serious adverse reactions to vaccines (such as those listed in the VICP table) are extremely rare and should not deter a family from vaccinating their children and considering receiving the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available to the public. If you have any concerns about the COVID-19 vaccine, the CDC has helpful resources on its website that may clarify.

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