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Close-up of a syringe injecting a vaccine into a patient's arm

To most Americans, vaccines are something we have always had. Since birth, we have routinely gotten them, and they are easy to take for granted. But vaccines actually have a long and complicated history, and it took hundreds of years to get where they are today. In this article, we’ll discuss a brief history of vaccines, how they’re made safe, and what your rights are if you think you’ve sustained an injury due to one.

The first vaccine was developed in response to smallpox, a disease that no longer exists in the modern world but killed between 300-500 million people in the 1900s. This centuries-long disease was not completely eradicated until 1979, nearly 200 years after Dr. Edward Jenner created the smallpox vaccine. 

The Chinese were the first to understand that if someone contracted smallpox and recovered, they became immune to it. They would preserve scabs from infected individuals, then crush those scabs into a powder that would be blown into the nostril as the earliest “vaccine.” 

In the late 1800s, famous French scientist Louis Pasteur developed successful vaccines against anthrax and rabies by repeatedly exposing the toxic pathogens to oxygen and heat, weakening them without killing them. A few decades later, two French physicians came up with the tuberculosis vaccine by passing 230 generations of a weakened strain through artificial growth areas, weakening it further every time. This is the same idea behind the annual flu vaccine we have now.

A few other notable developments in the history of vaccines:

  • Smallpox hit America in 1625; runs rampant for centuries
  • The term vaccination was created in 1803
  • Abraham Lincoln contracted smallpox in 1863
  • Anti-vaccination beliefs began to spread in 1882
  • Rabies vaccine was given to a human in 1885
  • Flu pandemic killed 50 million people worldwide in 1918
  • First flu vaccine licensed in the U.S. in 1945
  • World health organization declares polio eliminated from the Western Hemisphere in 1994
  • Gardasil vaccine for the prevention of HPV approved for six different types of the disease in 2014
  • Covid-19 vaccine is the fastest-developed in history and approved for emergency use less than a year after the pandemic began

How do vaccines work?

Very basically, vaccines work by mimicking the bacteria/virus behind the disease, signaling your body’s immune system to build up a defense against that bacteria/virus, called an antigen, without actually causing the disease. 

Some types of vaccines contain a weaker version of the bacteria/virus, while others only have a small part of it in the form of a protein, which the body then detects and defends against it. This builds up a stronger line of defense for future exposure to that bacteria/virus.  

The testing process that a vaccine must go through to be declared safe for routine use by the FDA is extremely vigorous. The vaccine begins in a lab, then moves onto animals, then clinical trials with human volunteers. These clinical trials have three stages. 

  • Phase 1 involves 20-100 healthy volunteers and focuses mainly on safety and potential side effects. 
  • Phase 2 involves several hundred more volunteers and delves further into side effects and, specifically, how the size of the dose impacts the immune system’s response. 
  • In Phase 3, the number of volunteers increases by hundreds or even thousands, and those are compared to others who receive a placebo. The trials must abide by strict scientific and ethical standards and are used in conjunction with chemical studies and manufacturing processes to ensure consistent safety and efficacy. 
  • Many vaccines go through a fourth phase after being released to keep tabs on how it is doing. 

Even after a vaccine is successfully rolled out, manufacturers must report any problems to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS); failure to do so may result in revoking their license to produce that vaccine.

Vaccine Safety

Vaccines have been proven overwhelmingly safe, and the number of people who die from a disease is far more than those who suffer injury or death because of its vaccine. Some numbers:

  • Over the past 20 years, nearly 800,000 children have been saved by vaccines
  • More than 20 high-quality scientific studies have found no link between the MMR vaccine and autism
  • The measles vaccine is 97% effective against a disease that otherwise kills 1-2 out of every 1,000 children
  • After the release of the first HPV vaccine in 2006, the HPV rate among teenage girls decreased by a staggering 56%
  • Nearly 90% of side effects from vaccines are mild and go away within hours or days

Injured by a vaccine? What are your rights?

A federal program called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) has streamlined the process of collecting damages without the need to go to court. It is no-fault and funded by a small tax on each vaccine. Claims may be filed by anyone who received a vaccine for a covered disease, including hepatitis A and B, tetanus, HPV, measles, and the flu. 

The vaccine injury table developed by the VICP is a list of injuries and conditions that may be caused by vaccines, along with a statute of limitations on those symptoms. If the first proven injury falls within that time limit, the vaccine is found to be the cause. Claimants will have a chance to prove injury outside of the timeline with further evidence.

Notably, COVID-19 is not currently covered by the VICP.

Related: Are There Any Legal Options If You Suffer Side Effects From COVID-19 Vaccine?

Filing a VICP claim can be a very complicated process. If you think you’ve been injured or someone you love has died as a result of a vaccine, you should find legal representation with experience in this area to maximize your chance at winning your claim. The Cochran Firm has years of experience in medical-related injury, and our team can help you navigate the claim process. Please call us at 1-800-THE-FIRM (800-843-3476), use our online form or live chat for more information, or to schedule a free consultation.

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