The heath and societal benefits of getting vaccinated, experts say, far outweigh the risks. But those risks, when realized, can be severe — perhaps even deadly.

Since its launch three decades ago, a federal program designed to compensate those who claimed to have been harmed by vaccinations has distributed nearly $4 billion.

It's important to note the overwhelming majority of compensation is not accompanied by the conclusion that one's injury or death was connected to a vaccination. But a filer's petition does meet all the necessary criteria put forth by the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. It is commonly known as vaccine court because it is administered by the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

"The program essentially provides an alternative to litigation," said Drew Britcher, an attorney in Glen Rock whose office handles vaccine injury claims a couple times per year. "The court and Congress, in order to try and draw a balance between the competing interests, created this fund as a 'no-fault' process and system."

All vaccine-related injury or death claims are pursued with a petition through the program. The program at the start, Britcher said, was very limited in the types of vaccines it covered. It's since expanded and includes a lengthy list of covered vaccinations, including the seasonal flu shot.

Between 2006 and 2016, according to the federal government, more than 1.3 billion influenza vaccinations were administered throughout the country. During the same period, the program received nearly 3,000 petitions for health issues allegedly related to the flu vaccine. A total of 442 were deemed eligible for a payout.

In at least one of the cases handled by Britcher's office over the years, the client was awarded an annual payment of $250,000 for a debilitating condition.

"By in large, most of the cases we deal with are not death cases," Britcher said. "Have we handled cases that involved infant mortality? Yes."

An Ocean County couple who lost their 20-month-old son in May 2017 is taking their case through the petition process, according to News 12 New Jersey. He was "recently vaccinated," the boy's mother said, and a later examination of his medical records uncovered a pattern of illness following vaccinations.

The program compensated 447 claims in Fiscal Year 2018, paying out more than $152 million. In total, claimants have received $3,641,047,109.72 since 1988.

The program puts forth strict guidelines on when a petition must be filed, and the severity of symptoms in order to be considered for compensation.

Britcher said the federal government has ruled there's not enough medical evidence to support the claim that autism is linked to the administration of vaccines.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.