A Republican-backed smallpox vaccination compensation bill was rejected by the House yesterday amid opposition from Democrats who said it didn't adequately compensate those who might be injured or killed by the vaccine. GOP leaders had rushed the bill onto the House floor under a process reserved for noncontroversial bills. Under the process, a two-thirds majority was required to pass the bill, but the final vote, 184-206, failed to win even a simple majority.
The bill offered $262,100 if a person died or was seriously injured by the vaccine. Lost wages for less serious injuries would be compensated at up to $50,000 per year with a lifetime maximum of $262,100. The bill was meant to encourage more healthcare workers to volunteer for vaccinations. To date, only about 25,000 of a targeted 500,000 have signed up for the program amid concerns about the vaccine's safety and questions about compensation in case of vaccination-related injuries.
During the past week three people died after being vaccinated, further aggravating those fears.
Democrats attacked the House bill as falling short of fair compensation. In a news conference held before the vote, 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 must be taken care of. ... But the bill that is on the floor today will not give (them) the assurances they need to be vaccinated."
Republicans said they may bring the bill back for another vote this week or wrap it into an emergency spending bill to pay for the war with Iraq and domestic security programs. -- by Tony Fong