Vaccination is defined as a safe and effective way of defending people against deadly and harmful diseases before they enter into their system’ by the World Health Organization. It uses a biological preparation made of the same bacteria that causes the disease and results in active immunity.
The aim of a vaccine is to create immunity by preparing the body to fight against the microorganism. So, when a person gets infected with the microorganism, the body is ready to fight and clear the disease. Vaccines have helped us eradicate several diseases that, if existed, could prove to be extremely fatal to human life and the economy of the world.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic has helped everyone realize the importance of vaccines. if a vaccine is developed, the pandemic can be controlled. But the development and testing of vaccines take at least a year–a time that the world doesn’t have right now.
What are the types of vaccines?
Vaccines can be made into different forms, depending on how our immune system might respond to the microorganism and the severity of the disease it can cause.
The four major types of vaccines include:
- Live-attenuated vaccines: These vaccines are the closest to the real microorganism. They contain weakened microorganisms and result in long-lasting immunity. However, due to these vaccines containing a live virus, albeit a small part, they cannot be given to immunocompromised individuals. Furthermore, these vaccines need to be refrigerated and don’t travel well, hence rendering them unusable in countries with little to no electricity.
- Inactivated vaccines: These vaccines usually contain the dead microorganism, hence cannot create a strong enough immune response. If this type of vaccine is administered, over time, booster shots will be needed.
- Subunit, recombinant, polysaccharide, and conjugate vaccines: These types of vaccines contain only certain parts of the microorganism, making them very efficient. They provide strong immunity but it waivers off with time and needs booster shots over the years. However, since they don’t contain the entire microorganism and provide strong immunity like the live vaccines, they can be administered to everyone, including immunocompromised individuals.
- Toxoid vaccines: These types of vaccines contain the toxin produced by the microorganism and provide immunity against the said toxin. Just like the above-mentioned vaccine types, this type also requires booster shots for the effect to stay.
Research regarding new types of vaccines
The scientists determine which type of vaccine is to be made against a microorganism. Scientists are currently studying two new types of vaccines: DNA vaccines and recombinant vector vaccines.
- DNA vaccines, like live vaccines, provide strong immunity for a long time. They can be manufactured at a low cost, which is an added benefit.
- Recombinant vector vaccines will basically act as the natural infection and prepare the immune system to fight the infection if the body contracts it.
Vaccines provide immunity against diseases that can cause severe, life-long damage to one’s body in the form of severe infections and disabilities, like blindness, paralysis, and so on. In fact, vaccines have saved more lives than any other medical invention.
Are there any side effects associated with vaccination?
Usually, vaccines don’t present with side effects. Even the side effects that do occur are very mild, including irritation at the site of the injection, mild fever, tiredness, headache, muscle cramps, and chills. These are all mild side effects and don’t require medical attention.
However, there’s one in a million chance of having a severe allergic reaction. This is an extremely rare scenario and doesn’t occur usually. It’s also important to note that the benefits of the vaccines far outweigh the rare risk that they carry. This is because vaccines are tested for safety very thoroughly and don’t pose any other risk that might be seen online.
How is the safety of a vaccine tested?
Because of the widespread use of vaccines, especially by the vulnerable age population, the safety of a vaccine is taken very seriously. After research, throughout the years it takes to develop a vaccine, most of those years are spent on ensuring the safety of the final product.
Before the release of the vaccine, each vaccine undergoes a quality and safety check. There are three factors taken into consideration at this checkpoint: is the vaccine potent, is the vaccine pure, and is the vaccine completely sterile or free of contamination. Only after passing this checkpoint can the vaccine move further in the development process.
In the United States, the vaccine safety test is evaluated by the Food and Drug Association (FDA). Furthermore, the tests for safety don’t stop on the release and licensing of the vaccine. The FDA still continues to monitor the vaccine and the effect it has on the population.
The monitoring of a released vaccine depends on many systems like the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD), Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), Post-licensure Rapid Immunization Safety Monitoring System (PRISM), The Department of Defense (DoD), Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project (CISA), The National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), and the Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP).
Each monitoring system performs a specific set of functions, and collaborate with each other to evaluate and analyze the data at a larger scale.
What happens if the vaccine administration results in an adverse effect?
As mentioned above, there’s a one in a million chance of getting a severe allergic reaction after the administration of the vaccine. The United States has a program in place to compensate individuals who have faced the rare side-effects of vaccination.
This program is called the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program and it allows people to petition their case, which is then considered and decided upon by the US Court of Federal Claims.
About the Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP)
The program was started and amended in 1988 to ensure compensation for any proven claims of vaccine-related injury or death. The program also aims to provide vaccination for all through the vaccines’ supply from pharmaceutical companies, making them cost-effective for the citizens.
The program initially began in response to the lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that resulted in pharmaceutical companies threatening to slow down production and reduce the vaccine administration and supply.
The program is hosted by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and implemented by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the US Court of Federal Claims. The VICP is closely associated with the Vaccine Injury Compensation Trust Fund that’s used to provide compensation to the affected individuals. The funds for the VICTF are collected using the $0.75 tax on each vaccine.
Vaccines covered by the VICP
The VICP website clearly mentions the vaccines and the serious side effects of them that are compensated by the VICP. It also included the time frame in which the symptoms of an adverse effect appear, to be applicable to the compensations. These include:
- Tetanus toxoid containing vaccines that result in Brachial neuritis in 2-28 days post-vaccine, Anaphylaxis within four hours of vaccination, and disability, or death, proven to be due to the vaccine.
- Hepatitis B vaccine resulting in anaphylaxis within four hours, or disability, or death due to the administration of the vaccine
- Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR) vaccine, or any component of it that causes anaphylaxis within four hours of administration and encephalopathy between 5 to 15 days post-vaccination. The onset of encephalopathy cannot be any earlier than five days or any later than 15 days for it to be applicable for VICP.
- Rubella virus-containing vaccines that cause chronic arthritis between 7 to 42 days after vaccination.
And so on. The full list can be found on their website.
Requirements to file a petition with VICP
Only a few people can petition for compensation by the VICP, and these include:
- Individuals who are adversely affected by the vaccine administration
- The parent or legal guardian of the child adversely affected by the vaccine administration
- The legal representative of the estate of a deceased person, whose death was a result of the vaccine administration.
Not just that, a petition for financial compensation can only be applied if either one of the three criteria of severity apply to the situation of the affected individual, as mentioned below:
- Adverse effects that lasted for more than six months after the vaccination
- Adverse effects that caused inpatient hospitalization and surgical intervention
- Vaccination was directly responsible for the death of the individual.
Along with meeting the criteria mentioned above, there’s a strict time frame that one has to keep in mind for the filing of the petition. A petition must be filed within three years of the first symptom of adverse reaction of vaccine, within two years of death, or within four years of the first symptom of adverse reaction that resulted in death.
The Vaccine Injury Compensation Program exists to provide compensation to the people who may suffer from the very rare side effects of vaccines. But the presence of VICP doesn’t mean that these side effects are common or vaccines are inherently dangerous. It’s only a precautionary and stabilizing program for the safety of US citizens.