Unions Ask Bush To Delay Smallpox Vaccination Plan
Two of the nation's largest unions on Jan. 16 asked the Bush administration to delay smallpox vaccinations for health care workers until the administration agrees to provide medical tests for volunteers and compensation for those who experience adverse reactions to the vaccine, the Washington Post reports. Representatives from the Service Employees International Union, which represents 750,000 health care workers, said that they will advise members not to participate in the voluntary smallpox vaccination plan in the event that the administration does not meet their demands. "Those asked to risk their health, livelihood and even their lives must be protected from receiving a vaccine where contraindicated and must be compensated for adverse effects resulting from vaccination," Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents 350,000 health care workers, said (Connolly, Washington Post, 1/17). President Bush on Dec. 13 announced a national smallpox vaccination plan under which as many as 10 million emergency and health care workers will receive the vaccine (Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, 12/16/02). The vaccination plan will begin on Jan. 24, when a law that protects hospitals and health care workers who administer the smallpox vaccine from liability takes effect (Meckler, AP/Nando Times, 1/17). Researchers estimate that between 15 and 42 per one million individuals who receive the smallpox vaccine will experience "life-threatening complications" and between one and two individuals will die, but federal officials have not established a compensation program for those who experience adverse reactions to the vaccine, the Post reports. "The problem still is: If a worker or patient gets sick as a result of this vaccine, they'll be lucky if they receive a get-well card from Washington," SEIU President Andrew Stern said (Washington Post, 1/17). In addition, union officials said that a planned federal program to ensure that health care workers who volunteer to receive the smallpox vaccine are not at high risk for adverse reactions "will not be adequate" because states will not receive federal funds to implement the program (AP/Nando Times, 1/17). Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Health and Emergency Preparedness Jerome Hauer said he will continue to examine proposals to address union concerns over safety and compensation issues but will not delay the smallpox vaccination plan. "There are many people out there who have told us they want to be vaccinated," Hauer said (Washington Post, 1/17).
States Not Prepared?
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Times reports that the number of health care workers expected to receive the smallpox vaccine has "shrunk dramatically," and a number of states have said that they remain "months away" from the launch of their vaccination plans. A telephone survey of health officials in 20 states found that many of the smallpox vaccination plans developed by state officials "differ markedly" from the vaccination plan that the Bush administration announced last month. According to the Times, several state health officials said they would not begin to vaccinate health care workers until mid-February or later. Other state health officials said that they would wait for approval from the CDC to begin smallpox vaccinations. CDC Director Julie Gerberding said, "We are prepared to send the vaccine as early as next week to states that are ready to receive it. We want states to begin the program as soon as they can safely do it." According to the Times, some state officials also have raised concerns over the number of health care workers who have decided not to receive the smallpox vaccine. However, Gerberding said, "All of the states have taken enormous steps ... in an incredibly short period of time. Overall, we're very pleased and impressed" (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 1/17).