The Smallpox Vaccination Program launched in January 2003, with the goal of vaccinating 450,000 first responders against smallpox by the end of February 2003, to protect them in case of bio-terrorism. By the end of March 2003, only about 29,000 first responders had been vaccinated, three people had died from the vaccine and dozens more had suffered adverse reactions.
Because the smallpox vaccinations are voluntary, most first responders are not eligible for worker’s compensation claims to cover injuries caused by the vaccine.
On April 16, 2003 congress passed the Smallpox Emergency Compensation Act. Compensation was made available to those who received vaccinations during the period of January 24, 2003 through February 24, 2004 and included:
- Health care workers
- Law enforcement officers
- Security personnel
- Emergency medical personnel
- Other public safety personnel who have volunteered for and received the smallpox vaccination as part of a state smallpox emergency response plan
- Any individual who is accidentally injured by a smallpox vaccination given to a First Responder
The Smallpox Emergency Compensation Act provided compensation for injury, illness, disability, condition or death caused by the vaccine. Compensation included:
- All reasonable and necessary medical care to treat the injury
- Death benefits of either a lump sum payment of $262,100 or, if there are children under the age of 18, up to $50,000 per year
- Permanent and total disability benefits equal to 66 2/3 percent of wages (75 percent in the case of dependents) up to $50,000 per year for life
- Partial disability benefits of up to $262,100, payable at the same rate as permanent disability benefits and capped annually at $50,000 per year
According to the CDC, “in a recent study of adult primary vaccinees, 36% were sufficiently ill to miss work, school, or recreational activities or to have trouble sleeping.”
Known adverse reactions to the smallpox vaccine include:
- Local Reactions – Lesions, inflammation, swollen and tender lymph nodes, edema
- Systemic Reactions – fever, rashes
- Inadvertent Inoculation – transfer of the virus to other parts of the body or to other people, the most common adverse reaction to the vaccine, if transferred to the eyes it can damage vision
- Generalized Vaccinia – vesicles or pustules appearing on normal skin distant from the vaccination site
- Eczema Vaccinatum – spread of the disease itself due to inoculating a person with eczema, can be fatal
- Vaccinia Keratitis – lesions on the eyes, can cause permanent vision loss
- Progressive Vaccinia – necrosis in the area of vaccination, often fatal, most commonly occurs in people with compromised immune systems
- Post-Vaccinial Encephalitis – swelling of the brain and/or membrane surrounding the brain and spinal cord, 15-25% who have this reaction die, 25% with this reaction suffer permanent neurological damage
- Fetal Vaccinia – caused by inoculating pregnant women, can result in stillbirth and infant death
- Death – usually the result of postvaccinial encephalitis or progressive vaccinia
In spite of the dangers associated with the smallpox vaccine, the risks to first responders who are not vaccinated could be catastrophic in the event of a bio-terrorism attack. The campaign to vaccinate first responders continues, and the compensation program for those injured by the vaccine has been extended.
In May 2006, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a press release stating that, “the date by which an individual in an HHS-approved smallpox emergency response plan may receive a smallpox vaccination and still be considered for benefits under the program has been extended to Jan. 23, 2007.”
If you have questions about how workers compensation affects you in your particular employment situation or if you have a workers’ compensation claim, please contact an experienced workers compensation attorney today, such as Peter G. Angelos of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.