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Last Updated

02 Apr 2003

Source: Wall Street Journal, April 2, 2003

REVIEW & OUTLOOK

Smallpox Dollars

The Bush Administration is taking bioterror seriously, most recently by unveiling a compensation fund for emergency workers injured by smallpox vaccinations. Is it too much to ask that Congress and unions do their part?

Apparently so. On Monday, several House Republicans joined with Democrats to reject the fund. This was a sop to union leaders who are holding out for more money and scaring their health-care-industry members. The fright campaign has been so effective that 10 states have suspended vaccinations and only 25,645 individuals have received a shot -- 5% of the 500,000 emergency workers who were supposed to be inoculated by the end of February.

The critics claim the Bush fund is too stingy. In fact, the plan would give $262,100 to anyone who is permanently disabled or dies from vaccination -- the same amount the Justice Department pays firefighters or policemen injured or killed on duty. Does anyone think cops and firemen are worth less than hospital workers?

Meanwhile, most workers already have access to insurance and workers' comp for minor reactions. The federal fund will thus compensate individuals only after the fifth day missed from work, up to $50,000. Most likely, this won't be needed since military statistics show that only 3% of troops vaccinated have required sick leave, with average time off of 1.5 days.

There's been alarm over three people who died of heart attacks after vaccination, though experts say there's little evidence the vaccine is to blame. The reality is that for well-screened, healthy adults, the risks of vaccination are minuscule. This has been borne out by the military program, which has inoculated more than 350,000. As of the end of March, there were no deaths and only a handful of adverse reactions.