Organizations representing healthcare workers had mixed reactions to the Bush administration's limited proposal to compensate medical personnel and emergency responders who might be injured by a small- pox vaccination.
Service Employees International Union President Andy Stern called the plan a "much-needed shot in the arm" for the administration's slow-moving vaccination campaign but urged bipartisan cooperation from Congress to address what the nation's largest union of healthcare workers views as unresolved issues.
American Nurses Association President Barbara Blakeney said the HHS proposal fell short because it is "solely focused on worst-case scenarios" and neglects the impact of more likely side effects that would cause workers to lose less than five days of work. She said the plan also fails to address other health and safety issues raised by the ANA.
Subject to congressional approval, the compensation program would provide 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.
However, 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 are vaccinated on their own initiative.
The compensation plan is meant to encourage participation in the government vaccination effort, which had inoculated just 12,400 people as of March 4. Officials had hoped to vaccinate up to a half million medical personnel within a few months of the program's Jan. 24 start.
The SEIU said the final compensation plan should provide medical workers with "the same kind of aggressive medical screening, monitoring and surveillance as military personnel."