From The New York Times. Read the full article here.

At a time when the failure to immunize children is driving the biggest measles outbreak in decades, a little-known database offers one way to gauge the safety of vaccines.

Over roughly the past dozen years in the United States, people have received about 126 million doses of vaccines against measles, a disease that once infected millions of American children and killed 400 to 500 people each year. During that period, 284 people filed claims of harm from those immunizations through a federal program created to compensate people injured by vaccines. Of those claims, about half were dismissed, while 143 were compensated.

The data comes from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, a no-fault system begun in 1988 after federal law established it as the place where claims of harm from vaccines must be filed and evaluated. It currently covers claims related to 15 childhood vaccines and the seasonal flu shot.

Over the past three decades, when billions of doses of vaccines have been given to hundreds of millions of Americans, the program has compensated about 6,600 people for harm they claimed was caused by vaccines. About 70 percent of the awards have been settlements in cases in which program officials did not find sufficient evidence that vaccines were at fault.

“Vaccine injuries are rare,” said Renée Gentry, a lawyer who has been representing people filing claims of vaccine injuries for nearly 18 years. Still, she said, “they are pharmaceuticals and people can react to them — you can have a bad reaction to aspirin. They’re not magic.”

A total of $4.15 billion in compensation has been paid out since the program’s inception. A small proportion of the claims involve deaths. In 30 years, about 520 death claims have been compensated. Almost half involved an older vaccine for whooping cough that has not been used for two decades.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that vaccines prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children over a 20-year period.

The likelihood of serious harm if a person contracts measles is much greater than the chance of being injured from the measles vaccine, data shows. About one of four people who get measles are likely to be hospitalized, and one to two of every 1,000 people who get it are likely to die from the disease, according to the C.D.C. In comparison, claims of harm have been filed for about two out of every million doses of the measles vaccine.