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[IP] Unions Call for Changes in Smallpox Vaccine Program

>From the Washington Post:


Unions Call for Changes in Smallpox Vaccine Program

By Ceci Connolly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 17, 2003; Page A13

Two of the nation's largest unions called on President Bush yesterday
to suspend smallpox vaccination of health care workers until the
administration agrees to provide medical screening of volunteers and
compensation for anyone injured by the vaccine.

One of the organizations, the Service Employees International Union,
said that unless the administration agrees, it will recommend that
its 750,000 members in the health sector not participate in the
vaccinations. Already, several prominent hospitals are refusing to
take part, citing safety concerns.

One week before the start of the extensive immunization campaign for
health care workers, the union and hospital defections threaten to
complicate Bush's goal of inoculating 500,000 hospital and public
health staffers in the first phase of the program.

Jerome M. Hauer, acting assistant secretary for public health and
emergency preparedness, said he will continue to look for ways to
address safety and compensation issues but will not postpone the
program. "There are many people out there who have told us they want
to be vaccinated," he said. "We are going ahead with the program."

On Dec. 13, Bush announced plans to inoculate as many as 10.5 million
health care workers and emergency responders most likely to come in
contact with an initial case of smallpox. Mandatory immunization of
500,000 military personnel is underway.

The administration and Congress have provided liability protections
for makers of the vaccine as well as hospitals and medical personnel
administering it. If, for instance, a hospital patient is
accidentally infected with the live vaccine, neither the hospital nor
its staff would be responsible for damages.

But federal officials have consistently rejected entreaties to
compensate people harmed by the vaccine, which consists of a live
virus known for its serious side effects. Past experience indicates
that between 14 and 52 of every 1 million people immunized will
suffer life-threatening complications, such as blindness and swelling
of the brain; one or two could die.

Under provisions of the Homeland Security Act, people injured by the
vaccine would have to sue the federal government and prove negligence
to be compensated.

The unions are also pressing Bush to pay for medical tests that could
screen out risk factors such as pregnancy, eczema and weakened immune

"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,"
wrote Gerald W. McEntee, international president of the American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which includes
350,000 health care and emergency workers.

SEIU President Andrew L. Stern said civilian volunteers should
receive the same screening and protections as the military, which has
screened out about 30 percent of its members because of

"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," he said.

At least a half-dozen hospitals, including Grady Memorial Hospital in
Atlanta, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System in Richmond
and Centura Health hospitals in Colorado, have announced they will
not innoculate employees.

) 2003 The Washington Post Company
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