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Medical malpractice liability for vaccination: when, if ever?, P.1

A California doctor recently became the subject of a complaint to that state's medical board that he was grossly negligent in writing a letter exempting a 2-year-old boy from further vaccination. According to the complaint, the letter was written after the mother complained about adverse side effects from previous vaccinations. The doctor was alleged to have never conducted any medical examinations to corroborate assertion of adverse side effects.

California has passed laws which did away with personal-belief exemptions for the vaccination of school age children in an effort to counteract the growing number of people choosing not to vaccinate. According to the National Vaccine Information Center, both religious and medical exemptions to immunization requirements are still allowed in the state of New York. It remains to be seen whether religious exemptions will remain in the face of increasing rates of unvaccinated children.

The complaint against the California doctor is related to his professional license and his ability to practice medicine, which is separate from the issue of medical malpractice liability. It is an interesting question, though, whether a physician could face medical malpractice litigation for recommending a medical exemption from vaccination.

Perhaps a more pressing issue is whether a physician or other health care providers can be sued for recommending or administering a vaccine. While vaccine injuries are relatively rare, they can occur and more importantly there has been scientific evidence linking vaccinating children to an increase in autism. However, when vaccines cause injury patients have the ability to seek compensation through the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, sometimes simply called Vaccine Court. Seeking compensation through that route is how a patient would proceed when a correctly administered vaccine causes injury.

If everything was done correctly, medical malpractice will ordinarily not come into the picture since administering vaccinations is well within standard practice. That being said, patients should be aware of certain situations where administration of vaccines could possible constitute malpractice. We'll continue this discussion in our next post.

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