As of 26 July 2021, over 83.8 million vaccines against coronavirus have been given in the UK. Vaccination is continuing at a rate of around 205,000 doses per day. But what can a person do if they suffer a severe disablement due to their vaccine?

Since 31 December 2020, one of the options open to such people is the Vaccine Damages Payment scheme. The scheme has long been in operation for other vaccines, primarily for children’s vaccines such as those against measles, mumps, and rubella. The scheme allows for a one-off tax-free payment of £120,000. This could affect some benefits and entitlements and will be accounted for if a civil case is later pursued, but the scheme does not require proof of fault, and claimants will have up to six years from the date of the vaccination in which to claim (or the date they reach the age of 21, or would have if they had not died, if that date is later).

The catch? Causation. Claimants need to show, on the balance of probabilities, that the vaccine caused them a disability that amounts to at least a 60% (mental or physical) disablement.

Claimants can evidence such disablement with medical evidence from their doctors or the hospital involved in treatment. However, what does a 60% disablement look like in practice?

Schedule 2 of The Social Security (General Benefit) Regulations 1982 provides a table with descriptions of injuries and the degree of disablement percentage it amounts to. The first issue is that the injuries listed are largely focused on the loss of limbs, particularly through amputations, or loss of sight, hearing, or very severe facial disfiguration – it does not appear to be equipped to deal with neurological damage or mental disabilities for example. Secondly, it is clear from those injuries listed that the 60% threshold is hard to meet. For example, loss of both hands would be 100% disablement. Loss of a whole hand would be 60%. But if you lose four fingers from one hand, that only amounts to 50% disablement and inhibits you from claiming. Loss of sight to an extent where you could not perform any work for which eyesight is essential is 100% disablement, yet loss of vision in only one eye amounts to 30% and is well below the threshold. Evidently, few will be in a position to show sufficient disablement, despite this threshold having already been reduced by The Regulatory Reform (Vaccine Damage Payments Act 1979) Order 2002 from 80% to 60% disablement. 

More than this, a claimant would still be required to prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the vaccine was the cause of the injury. While this may be more straightforward if the injury takes place shortly after a vaccine, this will be harder to prove as time passes.

It is also worth bearing in mind that a sum of £120,000 for these injuries is not as high as the equivalent that would be recommended under the JC Guidelines.

Together, all of these barriers may inhibit any sense of relief for those anxious about getting vaccines for fear of potential repercussions.

Nevertheless, the lack of a requirement to show fault, and the low cost of filling in the 16-page claim form to be sent to the DWP makes for a route which should provide an easier and quicker form of financial relief if a person was severely disabled by their vaccine.

The scheme also has in place appeal systems in the form of a ‘mandatory reversal’, whereby the DWP reviews the original decision, and either sends a new decision if they think it should be changed, or a ‘mandatory reversal note’ explaining why not. There is no limit on the number of mandatory reversals sought, nor the time limit in which to do so.  Alternatively, the decision can be appealed to the Social Security and Child Support Tribunal and taken thereafter through the courts, as did John, a child who developed narcolepsy and cataplexy after receiving the Swine Flu vaccine in 2009 (covered by the UKHRB here).