By: Caroline Ross
Public Health and Vaccine Support Programs
Vaccines are one of the safest and efficient medical tools in recent history. However, like with any other medical treatment, there is always a risk of harm. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and renewed debates over mandatory vaccinations have brought the risk of vaccine harms into the spotlight. To ease potential discomfort over vaccines the Public Health Agency of Canada unveiled the Vaccine Injury Support Program (VISP) on December 10, 2020. But what exactly is the VISP and is it the right solution to vaccine injuries?
What is the Deal with Vaccine Injury Support Programs?
A vaccine injury compensation program is similar to accident disability insurance as it can provide income replacement benefits and reimburse certain costs such as uncovered medical expenses. The Canadian VISP is a no-fault system which means that you do not need to prove anyone was negligent in administering the vaccine if you want to make a claim. This means that you only need to reasonably prove the vaccine caused your injury.
To answer the question of whether this type of program is appropriate, we should look at existing programs around the world. There are currently 19 jurisdictions worldwide that have implemented vaccine injury programs including all other G7 countries. While Canada did not have a national program prior to 2020, Quebec has operated a provincial vaccine compensation program since 1985. The national VISP will follow the existing framework of Quebec’s program. Since it has been established that a VISP is not a new concept, the next question to tackle is whether a VISP is the best solution for vaccine harms.
Pros and Cons of a Vaccine Injury Support Program
Ethical and Practical Advantages of a VISP
There are several advantages to establishing a national vaccine injury support program. There is an ethical advantage to this type of program because it can increase public trust and support in mass vaccinations campaigns. More people may agree to vaccinations if there is a fallback system that addresses serious injuries caused by vaccines. There is also a practical advantage to this program because it removes uncertainty of litigation for manufacturers and fosters innovation in vaccine development.
Costs and Anti-Vaccine Movements
There are a few disadvantages of this type of program that should be discussed. While a VISP can increase public trust in mass vaccinations, it could also foster an anti-vaccination mindset. Some might believe that if vaccines were harmless then a VISP would never be needed. This type of argument does not take into account that all medical procedures have a slight risk of significant harm. The cost of a VISP is another concern that should be evaluated. Most high-income countries can manage the cost of implementing a VISP, therefore the cost of maintaining this program is a valid concern for lower GDP countries. Overall, the benefits of implementing a vaccine injury support program vastly outweighs the potential drawbacks.
Canada Moving in the Right Direction
The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the landscape of public health and mass vaccinations. The new Vaccine Injury Support Program puts Canada on the same level as all other G7 countries. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this blog, a vaccine injury support program is the best solution to address serious vaccine harms to foster a nation that prioritizes public health.
 Dubé E, Gagnon D, MacDonald NE, Harmon SHE, Hapuhennedige S. Vaccine Injury Compensation Programs: Rationale and an overview of the Québec program. Can Commun Dis Rep 2020;46(9):305–8. https://doi.org/10.14745/ccdr.v46i09a09