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January 29, 2019

The National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program: Striking a Balance Between Individual Rights and Community Benefit

Author Affiliations
  • 1Tufts Medical Center, Department of Pediatrics, Tufts University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 2Division of Injury Compensation Program, Department of Health and Human Services, Rockville, Maryland
  • 3Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA. 2019;321(4):343-344. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.20421

Mandatory immunization requirements protect both the individual and the community against the morbidity and mortality associated with vaccine-preventable illnesses. Despite the overwhelming evidence of safety and societal benefit, vaccines are associated with a small degree of risk to the individual of untoward reactions even when the vaccine is properly manufactured, handled, and administered. Some people who are unaware or misinformed regarding the risk-benefit ratio of vaccines, who do not believe the science of clinical trials and other study designs, or who hold personal beliefs inconsistent with vaccination may have a different opinion regarding the balance of individual rights and community benefit. Mandatory immunization laws may result in restrictions on individual or parental rights (such as excluding some unvaccinated children from school), although justification of state laws requiring immunizations have been upheld by numerous courts throughout the country, including the US Supreme Court. The basis of this restriction of individual rights is that failure to vaccinate affects the safety of others and does not fulfill the obligation of society to ensure that children receive optimal preventive health care.

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    1 Comment for this article
    General Comment
    Lynn Shaffer, PhD | Mount Carmel Health System
    Thank you for this information about how and why the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program started, and how it is structured. I see posts on various websites from people who are against vaccination and who state that this program "proves that vaccines are injuring people." It is nice to have this information so those claims can be addressed. Vaccination is an extremely effective public health strategy and we need to be vigilant about maintaining high vaccination rates.