Republican Smallpox Vaccine Compensation Bill Defeated in House
The House yesterday voted 206-184 to reject a bill (HR 1463) supported by many Republicans that would have provided financial compensation for people disabled or killed by the smallpox vaccine, the Washington Post reports. Many Democrats said the package offered insufficient compensation, the Post reports (Eilperin, Washington Post, 4/1). Only about 25,000 out of an expected 500,000 health workers have received the vaccine thus far under the Bush administration's smallpox vaccination plan, and the bill was intended to encourage such individuals to volunteer to receive the vaccine, the New York Times reports (Hulse, New York Times, 4/1). Under the bill, sponsored by Rep. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), people who become disabled or die as a result of the smallpox vaccine or their survivors would have received a lump sum of $262,100. The legislation also would have compensated participants for 66% of lost wages after they missed five days of work for illnesses related to smallpox vaccination or 75% of lost wages for workers with dependents, up to $50,000 per year, or up to $262,100 total, the maximum benefit for death or permanent disability (California Healthline, 3/28).
Some House Democrats support increasing the yearly payment cap to $75,000 with no lifetime cap, removing the 180-day limit for workers to get the vaccination or lose eligibility for the compensation and making federal funding for the compensation fund mandatory rather than discretionary, the Washington Times reports (Dinan, Washington Times, 4/1). They also want to provide states funds for free education services and prescreening for prospective vaccine recipients, the Baltimore Sun reports (Hirschfeld Davis, Baltimore Sun, 4/1). Neither Democrats nor Republicans have put "definitive price tags" on their proposals, but Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) said the Democrat plan would probably cost less than $110 million, CongressDaily reports (Heil, CongressDaily, 3/31).
"Every day we spend negotiating on this bill is a day we put our country at risk," Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) said (Baltimore Sun, 4/1). He added, "This bill needs to get passed now. If it doesn't pass today, it's only because somebody on the other side thinks enough is never enough" (Meckler, AP/Washington Post, 4/1). However, Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.) said, "Our first responders must know that in the event of an adverse or even fatal reaction, their needs and the needs of their families will be taken care of," adding that the Republican bill "makes our first responders beg for help. It nickels and dimes the very people who will care for us in an emergency" (Washington Post, 4/1). Republicans said they might bring the bill up for a vote later in the week or attach it to the fiscal year 2003 supplemental budget bill, which would cover the expenses of the war with Iraq and domestic security measures, the New York Times reports (New York Times, 4/1). NPR's "Morning Edition" today reported on the House vote (Rovner, "Morning Edition," NPR, 4/1). The full segment will be available in RealPlayer online after noon ET.
In response to the deaths of three people who had recently received the smallpox vaccine, CDC officials on Monday told state health departments that people with heart disease and those with at least three of four known heart disease risk factors -- high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking -- should not be vaccinated, the Los Angeles Times reports (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 4/1). The new recommendation goes beyond what CDC officials recommended last week -- that people with a history of heart disease not receive the vaccine. That recommendation came after a Maryland woman and a Florida woman -- both health workers -- died of heart attacks after receiving the vaccine and several other vaccine recipients experienced heart difficulties. The Defense Department on Friday announced that an unidentified 55-year-old member of the National Guard also died of a heart attack after he received the vaccine. All three people who died after receiving the vaccine had risk factors for heart disease. Health officials said it is not known whether the vaccine played a part in those deaths or the other cases but said that the issue should be studied further. Under the new guidelines, agency officials estimate that approximately 6% of health workers and 10% of the general public would be ineligible to receive the vaccine (California Healthline, 3/31). The CDC is sending out new vaccination forms to help states screen people for the vaccine, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 4/1).
Pending the results of an investigation into the deaths of the three people who died after receiving the smallpox vaccine, nine states -- Arizona, California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New York, Vermont and Washington -- have suspended their smallpox vaccine programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. In addition, Connecticut has suspended its program for two days, Florida is requiring people scheduled for vaccination to be rescreened for eligibility and Idaho officials are recommending that local health departments temporarily stop administering the vaccine (Los Angeles Times, 4/1). Officials in Yellowstone County, Mont., which contains the state's largest city, Billings, also have suspended the smallpox vaccine program, the AP/Washington Post reports (AP/Washington Post, 4/1). Wende Latham, assistant division director for clinical and community health services in Nevada, said that the state would resume inoculations when "we receive clearance from both the CDC and the state" (AP/Las Vegas Sun, 3/31). Elizabeth MacNeill, chief medical officer for the Pima County, Ariz., Health Department, said, "[A] lot of people have been spooked to begin with. I think [the three deaths] will make it even harder to get people to volunteer" (Rushlo, AP/Arizona Daily Star, 4/1).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.