HHS proposed a limited program to compensate medical personnel and emergency responders who might be injured by smallpox vaccination, a move that could increase the so-far-scant participation in the government vaccination effort. The program, retroactive to the start of the vaccination campaign, must be approved by Congress. It would be similar to the Public Safety Officers Benefit administered by the Department of Justice for police officers and firefighters, providing up to $262,100 for deaths or permanent and total disabilities, up to $50,000 for lost wages from temporary or minor illness, and compensation for "reasonable" out-of-pocket medical expenses for other than minor injuries. The lost-wages benefit would be secondary to workers' compensation or other disability benefits and apply only after the fifth day of lost work. The same benefits would be available to people who become ill after contact with an individual vaccinated under the government program but not to members of the general public who get vaccinated on their own initiative.
As of March 4, about 12,400 people had been vaccinated against smallpox as part of the federal initiative. Initially officials had hoped to vaccinate up to one-half million medical personnel and emergency responders within a few months of the program's Jan. 24 start. Scores of hospitals have refused to participate in the effort, arguing the risk of a terrorist attack by smallpox is less than the risk of dangerous side effects to vaccination. Historically, about 1,000 of every 1 million people inoculated experienced minor reactions, an additional 14 to 52 people suffered severe complications, and one or two of them died, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. -- by Julie Piotrowski
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