‘Significant work’ required to establish vaccination compensation scheme, says Department of Health

Report from 2020 recommended introduction of scheme for people who suffered injury arising from vaccination programmes ‘as matter of urgency’

Plans for a vaccination compensation scheme look to be delayed, with “significant work” still to be done to establish the scheme, it has emerged.

The Government said last summer that the establishment of the scheme was being progressed as a priority.

However, the Department of Health has now said significant work is outstanding because resources have been diverted into the battle against Covid-19.

The Government has so far declined to set up a specific scheme in response to any claims that might arise from the Covid-19 jab, as these claims may be dealt with through the new overarching vaccine compensation scheme.

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A December 2020 report on the handling of medical negligence claims, produced by an expert group chaired by Mr Justice Charles Meenan, recommended the introduction of an ex-gratia scheme for people who suffered injury arising from vaccination programmes “as a matter of urgency”.

In the United Kingdom, a vaccine damage payments programme enables people to be given tax-free fixed payouts of £120,000 (about €139,000) if they have suffered significant harm or death from a jab.

Covid-19 vaccination injuries come under this scheme. Many other countries have moved to establish similar schemes.

A report by the Oireachtas research group found that 25 jurisdictions globally have vaccination injury compensation schemes, 16 of which are in Europe.

The report found that the primary argument in favour of such schemes is an “ethical one, which contends that because governments urge or indeed require residents to be vaccinated in order to maintain societal herd immunity against diseases, they should protect those who are damaged by these vaccines”.

The report said countries such as Sweden, Finland and Denmark compensate for injuries received from all vaccines, whereas countries such as France, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, and the UK only compensate for government-recommended or compulsory vaccines.

In response to questions from The Irish Times, the department said that while preliminary scoping work into such a scheme has been carried out, progress has been hampered by the ongoing pandemic.

“While some preliminary scoping work has been undertaken by the department, during the pandemic all available Department of Health resources were devoted to the public health response. This has meant that progress on the development of policy in this area could not be progressed as intended.

"There is still significant work required to develop proposals for consideration by Government regarding vaccine damage compensation. As part of that work, it is anticipated that consideration will also be given to the inclusion of claims relating to alleged adverse reactions from Covid vaccines.”

In June 2018, the government set up an expert group to review the management of clinical negligence claims, which was chaired by Mr Justice Charles Meenan. The group looked at the system from the perspective of the person who has made the claim to examine if there is a better way to effectively and sensitively deal with certain cases.

The department said that Mr Justice Meenan submitted the final report on the current system for managing clinical negligence claims to the then minister for health and minister for justice in January 2020, prior to the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Government subsequently published the Meenan report in December 2020. One of the report’s recommendations is that a compensation scheme be established.

Meanwhile, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recommended authorising two adapted Covid-19 vaccines that provide stronger protection against variants in circulation and could be available within weeks.

European regulators recommended authorising two adapted vaccines, made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna, which target the Omicron/BA1 subvariant in addition to the original strain of the virus.

The opinion of the EMA’s human medicines committee, announced on Thursday, will be sent to the European Commission for a final decision. This is likely to come within days; any decision is legally binding in Ireland.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said on Thursday he had discussed the availability of adapted vaccines with interim chief medical officer Prof Breda Smyth this week. Mr Donnelly said he had been assured that any new vaccines could be made available in Ireland within a week of getting the regulatory green light, as supply chains have already been set up to get the vaccines into Ireland and to distribute them.

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray

Jennifer Bray is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times