How the Pandemic Has Overwhelmed a Federal Injury Compensation Program

Imagine experiencing a workload increase of more than 11,000 percent in the space of one year with no corresponding increase in personnel and no dedicated budget. Thanks to the pandemic, the federal government’s Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program (CICP)  finds itself in just such a position. While steps are being taken to address the program’s ability to handle the new realities, the impact is not yet visible to the public.

The CICP was established in 2010 to provide compensation for those injured or killed by health measures administered in response to an epidemic or other threat to national health or security. The program came out of the 2007 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP Act) passed in the wake of 9/11 and the subsequent concern about national security threats. The CICP defines a countermeasure as a “vaccination, medication, device, or other item recommended to diagnose, prevent or treat a declared pandemic, epidemic or security threat.” In the past, these have included treatments for Ebola, nerve agents, Zika, and anthrax, among others, and now includes COVID-19.

As of March 1, 2021, the CICP reported that since its inception 11 years earlier, the program had received 551 claims from “individuals who alleged they were injured by covered countermeasures and requested compensation.” As of March 1, 2022, the latest date for which data is available, 7,547 claims had been received, a 1,270 percent increase. A year ago, 62 cases were in the medical review process, a figure that has ballooned to 7,049 at present, an 11,270 percent increase. At this point, fewer than two dozen people are responsible for processing, evaluating, and otherwise administering the claims. According to Christy Choi, deputy director for the Office of Communications of the Health Resources & Services Administration, the CICP “is currently staffed by 20 people who work in a variety of administrative and medical roles.”

The first time the CICP specifically reported COVID-related countermeasures in its monthly data release, July 1, 2021, the program had received 1,165 COVID-19 countermeasure claims. Out of the 1,165, two claims had been resolved, both of which were rejected. Eight months later, out of 7,056 COVID-related claims, resolved claims stand at seven. Six of those resolutions have been denials. The denied claims include one citing use of a ventilator as cause of death. The remaining five all alleged vaccine-related injuries: face spasms and hypertension, allergic reactions, SIRVA (shoulder injury related to vaccine administration), and swelling of the tongue and throat, difficulty speaking/swallowing, and dizziness. All six denials were “because the standard of proof for causation was not met and/or a covered injury was not sustained,” according to the CICP. The one claim deemed eligible for compensation was an anaphylactic reaction to a vaccine. Compensation for that claim, first listed as eligible last October, is still pending due to the required review of eligible expenses. (According to the CICP, the program does not summarize its data by specific trade name or manufacturer.)

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