An approved vaccine for COVID-19 is only a few weeks old but there's already a system in place to compensate you or your loved ones should you experience significant physical harm because of it.

The same potential protections exist for harm related to N95 masks and mechanical ventilators.

COVID-19 is included in the federal government's Countermeasures Injury Compensation Program, which can offer benefits to eligible individuals who experience a serious injury related to vaccinations, medications or devices that are intended to help the nation's fight against a pandemic and other emergencies.

"On the rare chance you suffered a serious injury, or the death of a loved one, from the administration or use of a covered countermeasure, you may qualify for benefits," the Heath Resources & Services Administration says online.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services refers to the CICP as a "last resort" option for payment, meaning it would only cover reimbursement for medical expenses or lost wages that couldn't already be covered by other avenues such as health insurance or workers' compensation.

The program doesn't mean that the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous. This week, Dr. Ed Lifshitz, the director of the state's Communicable Disease Services, said there's been “zero deaths from the vaccine" after 5 million doses administered in the country.

"I certainly would take my odds with the vaccine over the virus, any day of the week,” he said Monday.

Like its National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program counterpart, the CICP is a no-fault process and system — the government isn't admitting that a specific vaccine or device caused one's harm, but enough documentation has been provided to allow for financial compensation of past losses.

Since the CICP's inception in 2010, through Dec. 1, 2020, the nation handled 499 claims from individuals who claimed to have been injured by a countermeasure related to covered areas such as Ebola, Zika and certain insecticides.

Getting your hands on compensation, however, doesn't appear to be so easy. According to Drew Britcher, an attorney in Glen Rock whose office handles vaccine injury claims, 450 of those submitted claims were found to be ineligible for compensation. Another 10 cases remain under review.

"None of us really knows what exactly the COVID vaccination's circumstances are going to be yet," Britcher said.

"If you or a loved one has suffered some kind of complication of treatment associated with COVID, they have one year from when they utilized or was administered the particular countermeasure to file their claim."

The program could also provide death benefits to those who've survived the victim, whether or not the death was related to the countermeasure.

Unlike those who file for compensation through the VICP, which actually puts up money for attorneys' fees and costs to those who are found eligible for compensation, people do not need a lawyer's help to file a CICP claim, Britcher noted.

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