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Can You Sue Johnson & Johnson for a Vaccine Injury?

Close up of doctor's hands vaccinating child
By Andrew Leonatti on April 26, 2021 5:57 AM

The drive to vaccinate the world against COVID-19 took a hit earlier this month when American and European regulators announced a pause in administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Out of more than 7 million doses distributed in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspects that, so far, eight women developed a severe blood-clotting disorder, causing two suspected fatalities. Researchers have yet to prove a direct link between the J&J vaccine and the blood clots.

These vaccine injuries may have many wondering whether they have any legal recourse should the same thing happen to them. When it comes to vaccines, though, your options are few.

Manufacturers Have Strong Liability Shields

This blog previously wrote that neither you nor your family can sue drug companies for death or serious injury connected to participation in a COVID-19 vaccine trial.

That remains the same for the general public taking authorized vaccines, which in the U.S. are from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and J&J-Janssen.

The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act of 2005 gives the federal government sweeping powers to shield drug companies from liability when deploying "medical countermeasures" during emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic. Then-Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar invoked the PREP Act in 2020 to cover the COVID-19 vaccines until 2024.

Drug companies argue that protection like what the PREP Act affords is critical to drive innovation and keep costs down.

"We have to accept for vaccines — or any medications — there is a very, very small number of people who will have serious adverse reactions," said Peter Meyers, the former head of George Washington University's vaccine injury litigation clinic.

Your Options Are Limited

The PREP Act created the Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program, which compensates you or a family member when death or injury occurs as a result of a covered vaccine. The fund provides compensation for:

  • Medical expenses
  • Lost wages
  • Survivors' benefits
The program limits compensation to $50,000 per year or a death benefit of $370,376, and it does not cover pain and suffering. There is a strict one-year statute of limitations to file a claim.

Personal injury lawyers warn that the program is difficult to navigate, and the government rejects the vast majority of claims.

"It's not as simple as saying. 'Hey, I got a Covid treatment, and now I have an injury.' There is a lot of burden of proof there," said Vaccine Bar Association Vice President David Carney. Linking an injury directly to receiving a vaccine is difficult.

In the meantime, regulators are leaning toward resuming J&J vaccinations while attaching a warning label. That means the choice will again soon be yours whether to receive this particular vaccine, but you should be aware of the legal issues at play.

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