Just as millions of Americans are preparing to roll up their sleeves for a COVID-19 vaccine, the federal government scheduled a mandatory public hearing about vaccine injuries.
But a mistake led to confusion over if the public would actually be able to sign up to speak.
Critics call it an effort to silence the public on an issue that affects thousands of people who've suffered from the leading cause of vaccine injury and potentially anyone injured by a future COVID vaccine. The federal agency is now calling it a scheduling mistake.
The News4 I-Team first reported about shoulder injuries related to vaccine administration (SIRVA) in 2018. The debilitating and painful injury can happen when a shot is given too high on the arm. It now makes up 60% of all the new cases in the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a $4 billion fund that pays those who are injured.
But the cases are also clogging the vaccine court system. So, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to kick that injury out of the program, saying it's caused by human error more than what's in the syringe.
Attorney Leah Durant not only suffered from SIRVA, she also represents hundreds of people injured by vaccines. "I think what they're doing is basically going to have the impact of eroding public confidence in vaccinations and in the vaccine program, and I think at a time right now, that's the last thing that we need," said Durant.
That's because buried within the SIRVA proposal is another provision that would give the HHS secretary authority to keep this program from covering any future vaccines, too, which could include a COVID-19 vaccine. The effort requires a mandatory public hearing, which HHS scheduled for Nov. 9. It was announced last week in a Federal Register Notice, but the listed deadline for the public to sign up to speak had already passed on Oct. 26, three days before the notice even posted.
When the I-Team reached out to the agency, a spokesperson for Health Resources and Services Administration emailed saying, “As you know, on October 29, 2020, a Federal Register Notice (FRN) was published announcing the public hearing. The FRN included an incorrect deadline for individuals to register to speak at the hearing. Subsequently on October 29, HRSA posted on its website an updated date reflecting November 5as the deadline to register to speak at the hearing. Given the proximity to the upcoming hearing date, this web posting is the quickest way to share this information with the public. Interested parties also can call in and speak without registering. All of this information can be found on the website: https://www.hrsa.gov/vaccine-compensation/index.html.”
"It feels nefarious. It feels as if the government really does not want public input, that they're trying to discourage public input. We think it's, it's sad," said Durant. Durant told the I-Team she hired an administrative law expert to review this entire effort by HHS, which could take effect in January. She said she may end up filing a lawsuit to try to stop it.
Reported by Jodie Fleischer, produced by Rick Yarborough, and shot and edited by Steve Jones.