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Held by his mother Wenyi Zhang, one-year-old Abel Zhang looks at a book with Dr. Lauren Lawler, right, as his grandmother Ding Hong helps him, moments after the child received a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, Feb. 13, 2019, in Seattle. (AP) Held by his mother Wenyi Zhang, one-year-old Abel Zhang looks at a book with Dr. Lauren Lawler, right, as his grandmother Ding Hong helps him, moments after the child received a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, Feb. 13, 2019, in Seattle. (AP)

Held by his mother Wenyi Zhang, one-year-old Abel Zhang looks at a book with Dr. Lauren Lawler, right, as his grandmother Ding Hong helps him, moments after the child received a vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella, Feb. 13, 2019, in Seattle. (AP)

Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen April 13, 2021

1986 law did not lead CDC to recommend more child vaccines

If Your Time is short

  • Congress passed the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act in response to lawsuits filed against vaccine manufacturers in the 1970s in which people claimed they were injured after receiving a vaccination but did not provide sufficient evidence.
     
  • While the number of recommended vaccines did increase after the law was enacted it wasn’t a dramatic jump, as the first new addition to the schedule didn’t come until 1994.
     
  • Today, the CDC recommends 12 vaccines from birth to age 18, protecting against 16 diseases.

An image being widely shared on Facebook claims to show a dramatic increase in the number of vaccinations that have been recommended for children over the years.

The image shows a list of vaccines it says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended for children. According to the list, the number of vaccines a child should get went from three shots in 1962 to more than 50 in 2019. One account that shared the image blamed the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act as the reason behind the increase.

"Look at the schedule, we have gotten sicker and sicker, spend more money on healthcare ever in history, and (the) biggest jump in shots came after the 1986 Vaccine protection act which gave them exemption for responsibility of killing people and destroying the ones they didn’t kill," the Facebook post said.

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The post misrepresents and misinterprets the 1986 legislation and its relationship to the CDC’s current vaccine schedule.

While the law did help ensure the nation would have access to vaccines, it has no bearing on what vaccines are recommended. Rather, the CDC’s vaccination schedule is updated annually in response to health issues impacting the U.S. and as new vaccines become available.

Health Feedback also assessed this claim and debunked the notion that the U.S. has gotten "sicker and sicker" due to vaccines, writing, "Multiple large-scale studies found no association between childhood vaccines and poor health or chronic conditions. Scientific evidence shows that childhood immunization schedules are safe."

Here, we focus on what we know about the 1986 law and childhood vaccine schedule.

What the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act actually does

The National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was established after vaccine manufacturers were hit by a series of lawsuits in the 1970s from people who claimed they had experienced harmful side effects after being given the vaccine against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, commonly referred to as the DPT vaccine. These lawsuits resulted in damages being awarded despite what the CDC and experts have noted was a lack of scientific evidence backing up the claims.

Seth Mnookin, author of "The Panic Virus: The True Story Behind the Vaccine-Autism Controversy" said that between 1980 and 1985, vaccine-related tort claims increased more than 600% in the U.S. with total damages topping $3.5 billion. 

"By that time, the number of companies willing to distribute vaccines in the U.S. had plummeted, from several dozen in the 1960s to 4 in 1985," Mnookin said.

It was amid what Mnookin described as "anti-vaccine hysteria" that one of two companies in the United States that distributed the DPT vaccine halted domestic distribution. This prompted the CDC to warn the nation its stockpile of vaccinations was running low — and eventually led to the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act. 

The new law was designed to encourage vaccine supply while providing some remedy to those who believed the vaccines had harmed them.

The law led to the creation of three entities — the National Vaccine Program Office, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (called VAERS) and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Before it was dissolved by the Trump administration in 2019, the National Vaccine Program Office oversaw the nation’s vaccination-related activities conducted by all the agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, including the FDA and CDC.

VAERS is a database that physicians and individuals can use to report any negative events that occur following a vaccination. And the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program is a federally backed fund that pays "no fault" compensation to people who claim an injury from a vaccination.

The law also requires healthcare workers to provide information to patients about the risks and benefits of the vaccines they’re receiving.

The CDC’s vaccination schedule

The image shared on Facebook suggests that the CDC in 1962 recommended only three vaccines for children but that the list grew to include 11 shots in 1983 and 54 by 2019.

This ignores that many of the vaccines given to children are administered in multiple doses, such as the five-dose TDaP — which came to replace DPT vaccines in providing protection against diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis — and the three-dose hepatitis B vaccines.

Some vaccinations require multiple doses because a single shot is not enough for the body to develop a strong immune response. Those shots are spaced out over time.

Some vaccines also require boosters several years after initial injection because their effectiveness begins to wear off. Yearly flu shots are also recommended because flu viruses constantly change, and new flu vaccines are released yearly in order to keep up with those changes.

In all, the CDC’s vaccination schedule for children from birth to 18 years old lists 12 vaccines, which provide protection against 16 diseases and are administered in up to 54 shots, including boosters and the annual flu shots.

How vaccines changed after 1986 law

For eight years following the passage of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, the CDC's list of recommended vaccinations didn't change. The hepatitis B vaccine was added in 1994.

Its inclusion was in response to a hepatitis B epidemic in the United States, according to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. After its addition, cases of hepatitis B among children under 18 were virtually eliminated.

The vaccination schedule didn't get another update until 2000 when the chickenpox and hepatitis A vaccines were added. 

"In the two decades since then, an additional three vaccines have been added to the pediatric schedule: pneumococcal, influenza and rotavirus," Mnookin said. "If you expand it to include adolescents, you can add an additional two vaccines: meningococcal and HPV."

Mnookin said the claim in this post requires one to believe "various multinational corporations (are) working in secret with governments around the world to poison innocent civilians in order to boost profits." Mnookin called it part of a "loopy" conspiracy theory.

Our ruling

A Facebook post shows an image of the CDC's recommended vaccination schedule for children and suggests that the 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act led to a "jump" in the number of recommended vaccines because it gave drug makers "exemption for responsibility of killing people."

That’s wrong and gives a misleading characterization of the effect of the law on vaccines. The law established an office to oversee the nation’s vaccination efforts, a database to report adverse events after a vaccine is administered and led to the creation of a fund to compensate those who claimed to be injured by a vaccine. What’s more, it was eight years after the law’s adoption before a new vaccine was added to the CDC’s list of recommended childhood vaccines.

The CDC’s vaccination schedule, which today includes 12 vaccines providing protection against 16 diseases, is updated on an annual basis in response to health issues impacting the U.S. and as new vaccines become available.

We rate this claim False.

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1986 law did not lead CDC to recommend more child vaccines

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