A win for doctors and citizens: the COVID-19 Vaccine Claim Scheme

General practitioners, nurses and pharmacists who administer COVID vaccines now have medical indemnity against patients’ claims of severe side effects causing injury or financial loss.

The Federal Health Minister, the Hon Greg Hunt, announced the scheme in July, launching the COVID-19 Vaccine Claim Scheme in late August.

What this means for health professionals

The scheme covers privately practising health professionals who administer a COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. That means the Commonwealth of Australia will pay compensation to affected patients, not you as health professionals nor your insurer if you already have professional indemnity insurance. The scheme applies wherever the vaccine has been administered, such as at a GP clinic, state/territory-run health service, approved health provider or a workplace.

Importantly, the scheme gives an indemnity to health professionals vaccinating Australians under 60 with AstraZeneca (now called Vaxzevria). Patients have to give informed consent to indicate they accept the extremely rare risk of a blood clot. By the end of September, eight people – six of them women – had died from blood clots due to an adverse reaction to the AstraZeneca vaccination. This was out of a total of 9.6 million vaccine doses administered.

This scheme may help change the minds of unvaccinated patients under 60 with real or perceived barriers to the jab. They now have a choice of Vaxzevria, Comirnaty (formerly Pfizer) or the provisionally TGA-approved Spikevax (Moderna).

However, health practitioners will still use their professional judgement to determine if that vaccine is suitable for a particular patient. Doctors who prescribe the vaccine to consenting people under 60 are legally protected.

What it means for people receiving the vaccine

Affected patients need to apply to Services Australia for Commonwealth-funded compensation and can do so via this official website. They will be guided through a no-fault claims process while an expert panel investigates the claim and works out a common-law equivalent compensation settlement. It means successful cases will receive compensation without needing to go to court, but claimants can still take that legal path if they wish.

Another option for those who’ve suffered after getting the jab is to apply for sickness benefits from Centrelink if they’re eligible. If they suffer a long-term disability, they may qualify for a disability support pension. If they’re under 65, they can possibly access financial supports under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

The goal of the scheme

Minister Hunt has said the no-fault indemnity scheme will give “quick access” to compensation for vaccinated people who suffer adverse side effects. It offers coverage to businesses, too, when an employee has a severe reaction from a workplace mandated vaccination.

The scheme has been backdated to 22 February this year, when the national vaccine rollout started. It will also support claims made against privately practising health professionals who administered a COVID-19 jab which the Therapeutic Goods Administration has approved for use.

So, while it’s good to know this scheme exists, it won’t protect health practitioners dealing with complaints, disciplinary action, or claims arising from their unsatisfactory professional conduct. If you’d like to review your professional indemnity cover to ensure you have full protection against the risks, feel free to get in touch with us.