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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. Unfortunately, with that news has also come unsupported arguments that the vaccine isn’t safe due to the speed of getting it on the market. But severe reactions to vaccines are actually extremely rare, and our government has programs in place for when an individual does experience a debilitating or life-threatening adverse reaction.

The Department of Health Human Services plans to subject any injuries directly caused by the administration of the COVID-19 vaccination to the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program. The program would cover a victim’s medical services and lost wages that are not covered by insurers or third-party payers like worker’s compensation. 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 75-cent excise tax on each dose of routine vaccine administration to children, which is then used to compensate people who suffer adverse reactions.

So, what happens when a person suffers one of these serious injuries from a vaccine and obtains compensation from the government? Can he or she use the same financial planning strategies as someone who obtains a traditional personal injury settlement?

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 – and 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.

One thing to note is there are many components involved with establishing and administering a special needs trust, so it is recommended that a family speak with an expert to determine if a special needs trust is the best tool for an individual. And if it is, they can then work out which type of trust is best, who should be the trustee, and other details and terms. My team at Milestone would be happy to answer any planning questions for anyone who is about to receive injury compensation.

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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