As the Covid-19 vaccination rolls out in Australia, there are plenty of people sitting on the sidelines. This group has been described as having ‘vaccine hesitancy’.
Some people within this group are staunchly against vaccinations, but many others are just concerned that the vaccine has been rushed through truncated testing and approval processes, and would prefer to ‘wait and see’ what the potential side effects (if any) may be over the longer term.
Silencing expert opinions or preventing dissemination of disinformation?
While most medical professionals have stated that serious side-effects from Covid-19 vaccines are rare, those statements are not enough to placate everyone – especially given a joint directive was recently issued to health care professionals threatening sanctions for anyone who publicly disagrees with the current consensus.
The directive, issued by Medical Board of Australia and the Australian Health Practitioner Regulatory Agency, states:
“Any promotion of anti-vaccination statements or health advice which contradicts the best available scientific evidence or seeks to actively undermine the national immunisation campaign (including via social media) is not supported by National Boards and may be in breach of the codes of conduct and subject to investigation and possible regulatory action.”
Government protects vaccine manufacturers
Last year, the Australian Government announced it has given suppliers of two Covid-19 vaccines indemnity against liability for rare side-effects.
At the time, these suppliers were named as: AstraZeneca, and the University of Queensland vaccine from Seqirus (part of CSL).
Concerns regarding government indemnity
Although details of the indemnity are not crystal clear, the federal government during the October 2020 budget to foot the bill for compensation in the event that a person successfully sues a Covid-19 vaccine supplier for ‘serious side effects’.
But concerns persist regarding the lack of clarity regarding the definition of ‘serious side effects’ and whether there is a cap on compensation.
Other concerns include the exorbitant cost of taking civil proceedings against pharmaceuticals and the difficulties in establish proof that a vaccine caused the side effects.
International indemnity and compensation schemes
Governments of many 25 countries have also agreed to indemnify Covid-19 vaccine manufacturers, but these nations have gone a step further by establishing compensation schemes for individuals who are effected.
These countries include the UK, US and those in the European Union.
The stated purpose of the policy is to expedite the development of vaccines whilst assuring members of the public they will be compensated if something goes wrong.
And while questions have been raised about these schemes, individuals are not required to take on pharmaceutical companies in costly and protracted court litigation.
No compensation scheme in Australia
The Australian government has made clear it does not intend to implement such a scheme.
As stated on the health.gov.au website:
“The Government is not currently pursuing a no fault Covid-19 vaccine injury compensation scheme. Serious side effects are extremely rare. If you think you may be having an adverse reaction, you should seek immediate medical care.”
Concerns about the AstraZeneca vaccine
The Australian Government has thus far chosen AstraZeneca and Pfizer to deliver vaccines to the population.
But already in Queensland, health authorities have temporarily suspended providing the AstraZeneca vaccine to those who are sensitive to anaphylactic responses, after four recipients had dangerous allergic reactions to the drug.
European nations including Germany, France, Denmark Italy, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain and Ireland also suspended the use of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine over concerns its use may cause dangerous blood clots in some recipients.
It’s recently been revealed that AstraZeneca mistakenly gave some volunteers a half dose of the vaccine during clinical trials, and it has been criticised for omitting crucial information from its public statements.
US regulators have also questioned the accuracy of the company’s vaccine data.
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases expressed concerns recently that AstraZeneca had presented outdated data from a trial of the vaccine’s effectiveness. T
There have also been concerns that AstraZeneca entered the Covid-19 crisis with little vaccine experience, and all of this has dented the credibility of the vaccine in the eyes of the general public.
So, currently, if a person in Australia believes they have been injured by the vaccine, they need to pursue any compensation through the legal system.
If the vaccine was supplied by AstraZeneca or CSL, then also under current policy, the government, rather than the drug company, would pay that compensation, should the person win their case.
However, this puts a significant burden on any person needing to seek compensation to pursue action through the legal system which can be both time-consuming and costly, with absolutely no guarantee of success. The other avenue for financial assistance
On the other hand, if a no-fault vaccine compensation system were in place, it would provide, when needed, easier access to compensation.
Such a scheme would also provide a sense of certainty, which many Australians are wanting right now, and which becomes even more critical if becoming vaccinated is dependent on things such as employment or travel.
While most people accept that a vaccine is a good solution and a key part of moving forward into a post Covid-19 normal, so much confusion about the potential risks, and a lack of real guarantees – such as the ability to seek compensation should something go wrong – have many seriously considering what information they can trust as they make decisions about their health.