Liability Protections for Practitioners and Volunteers Engaged in Mass Vaccination
There are several liability protections that apply to practitioners and volunteers who are involved in mass vaccination efforts during the COVID-19 declared public health emergency. Please refer to the Connecticut General Statutes and federal Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act language for greater detail, as this is a summary of the provisions during the declared COVID-19 pandemic.
PREP Act Provisions:
The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act for Medical Countermeasures Against COVID-19 or PREP Act is a federal law which authorizes the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide tort liability immunity to individuals and organizations involved in the development, manufacture, distribution, administration and use of “covered countermeasures” against pandemics, epidemics and diseases and health threats. The purpose for issuing a PREP Act declaration is to provide immunity from tort liability.
On February 4, 2020, HHS through declaration invoked PREP Act immunity for covered persons who manufacture, distribute, and administer medical covered countermeasures against COVID-19, including covered vaccines. The immunities provided by the PREP Act are sweeping and broad and cover a range of legal claims. The declaration prevents tort liability claims under federal and state law, excluding willful misconduct, for losses caused by or relating to administration or use of the COVID-19 vaccine. The February 4th declaration has been amended four times to further broaden the scope of the PREP Act immunities. Taken together, the PREP Act declaration and amendments grant broad immunity protections to all “covered persons” in the COVID-19 vaccine distribution chain - from those who manufacture the vaccine to the person who administers the vaccine, including qualified persons,” which encompasses healthcare professionals or others authorized under law to prescribe, administer, and dispense vaccine either approved by the FDA or authorized under an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) as part of an emergency response. The declaration specified that volunteers are included in the qualified persons covered by the declaration. This federal immunity governs whenever there is a conflict with state law.
Connecticut General Statutes Title 28 provisions pertaining to Medical Reserve Corps and Disaster Behavioral Network Members/Volunteers:
Under Connecticut state law, “Civil Preparedness Forces” are defined as any organized personnel engaged in carrying out civil preparedness functions in accordance with the laws and regulations adopted. Medical Reserve Corps and Disaster Behavior Response Network volunteers and members are defined as “Civil Preparedness Forces.” Under state law, a volunteer who has been sworn in and activated under existing state protocols is protected. While engaging in an authorized civil preparedness duty, that individual is eligible for immunity from liability as provided under Connecticut General Statute section 28-13.
Notably any limitations in the immunity in CGS Title 28 do not have any effect on the scope of the PREP Act immunity. That is, all volunteers are covered by the PREP Act without regard to the executive order provision on DPH Commissioner approval, or the provisions under CGS Title 28. A report from the Congressional Research Service provides a legal summary of the protections afforded under the PREP Act.