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Will Australia’s lack of Vaccine Compensation Scheme slow the uptake of a COVID-19 Vaccine?

Will Australia’s lack of Vaccine Compensation Scheme slow the uptake of a COVID-19 Vaccine?

Published on August 21, 2020 by Katherine Driscoll and Julia HarrisonKatherine Driscoll and Julia Harrison

On 19 August 2020 it was announced that the Australian Government had signed a letter of intent with the British-Swedish pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca to make 25 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine that is in development by Oxford University[1].

The potential vaccine is currently undergoing a 30,000 person Phase 3 clinical trial in the United States and the results of the trial will not be known until September at the earliest.

If the Phase 3 trial is successful then the first doses could be available in Australia as early as the end of this year.

Early statements from the Federal Government indicated that a mandatory vaccination scheme could be implemented and these were met with some backlash.

Subsequently Prime Minister Scott Morrison has stated that the vaccine will not be mandatory but that as many people as possible will be encouraged to get vaccinated and the vaccine will be available to all Australians free of charge.

The Federal Government has made it clear that the aim will be to get as many Australians as possible vaccinated to ensure that there is enough vaccine coverage within the community to establish herd immunity to the virus.

It is not known at the present time, what percentage of the population will need to be vaccinated in order to establish herd immunity. There has been some suggestion that up to 95% of the Australian population would need to be vaccinated.

This raises the question; what will be done to support those individuals that suffer an adverse reaction to any future vaccine such as severe allergic reactions or other contrary responses to the vaccine?

Australia, unlike many industrialised countries does not have a vaccine injury compensation scheme in place.

For instance, United Kingdom has a Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme[2]. Under this scheme if an individual is disabled as a result of a vaccination against certain diseases they are entitled to a one-off tax free payment of £120,000.

Similarly, the United States has a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (“VICP”)[3]; a non-fault based scheme that provides financial compensation to individuals who file a petition and are found to have been injured by a VICP- covered vaccine.

The US scheme was created in the 1980’s after numerous lawsuits were brought against vaccine companies and health care providers threatened to cause vaccine shortages and reduce U.S. vaccination rates, which could have caused a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases.

The lack of a national compensation scheme is something that the Federal Government and health authorities will need to seriously consider in the coming months. Australia’s lack of a compensation scheme has the potential to act as a deterrent to widespread uptake of vaccination.

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