President Bush’s Smallpox Vaccination Program Slowed by Compensation, Other Concerns
The administration's goal to vaccinate hundreds of thousands of health care workers against smallpox in preparation for a potential bioterrorist attack has hit a "significant barrier" because many people are unwilling to be inoculated in the absence of a federal fund to compensate for any damages caused by the vaccine, federal officials said yesterday, the Los Angeles Times reports (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Under President Bush's smallpox vaccination plan, announced in December and commenced last month, around 500,000 health workers were scheduled to be vaccinated in the next few weeks, and as many as 10 million health workers, firefighters, police and ambulance personnel were slated to receive the vaccine in the program's second phase (California Healthline, 1/31). This timeline "has changed" because of persistent concerns among state officials, health care providers and unions, the Times reports (Los Angeles Times, 2/6). Some health care unions are concerned that workers who are injured by receiving the vaccine would not receive any compensation for lost work or medical expenses; some hospitals say the risks of the vaccine are too great, given that there is not an imminent threat of a smallpox attack; and states say they do not have enough money to implement the vaccination program (American Health Line, 1/31). So far, 432 frontline health providers received the vaccine as of Tuesday, and only one-third of states are "on track" to begin offering the vaccine by late February, when the first phase of vaccinations originally was scheduled to have been completed (Los Angeles Times, 2/6).
Under the program, people who receive the vaccinations on the job could be eligible for workers' compensation, but that program does not usually pay full wages, the AP/Nando Times reports. Also, Congress has barred "most" lawsuits against those administering the vaccine, according to the AP/Nando Times (Meckler, AP/Nando Times, 2/5). In addition, two members of the 3,665 military personnel to receive the vaccine have already experienced "potentially serious reactions," USA Today reports. One 23-year-old member of the Army developed encephalitis, or brain swelling, about eight days after receiving the shot and is "expected to be released from the hospital," according to USA Today. Another 30-year-old Army member developed "generalized vaccinia," a rash, and is currently working, USA Today reports. None of the civilian health workers vaccinated have had adverse side affects (Manning, USA Today, 2/6). However, federal officials remain "undeterred" by the slow start, and Joseph Henderson of the CDC said legislation would likely be introduced soon to create a compensation fund (Los Angeles Times, 2/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.