Senate panel approves 'BioShield,' nixes smallpox compensation plan

Mar 20, 2003 (CIDRAP News) – A Senate committee yesterday unanimously approved the Bush administration's "BioShield" plan to promote vaccines and treatments for biodefense but blocked the administration's proposal for compensating healthcare workers harmed by the smallpox vaccine.

Announced by President Bush in his state-of-the-union speech in January, the BioShield proposal would authorize financial incentives to encourage the private sector to develop vaccines and treatments for bioterrorism-related diseases such as anthrax, plague, smallpox, and Ebola hemorrhagic fever. The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved the plan, which drew praise from both parties, according to reports by news services. The House has not yet acted on the plan.

The Bush administration's smallpox vaccine compensation plan, unveiled Mar 5, had been attached to the BioShield bill. But Committee Chairman Judd Gregg, R-N.H., was forced to drop the compensation plan from the bill because Democrats led by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., objected that it was inadequate. The plan would pay benefits to healthcare workers and first responders of up to $262,100 for death or permanent total disability and up to $50,000 for missed wages and expenses due to temporary disability.

Kennedy said he wants broad changes in the compensation plan, according to a Reuters report. He and Gregg said they are continuing to negotiate on the smallpox compensation issue and hope to reach an agreement next week, the report said.

The lack of a compensation plan is considered the main reason the administration's smallpox vaccination program has been slow to take off. The administration had hoped to vaccinate up to 450,000 public health and healthcare workers within a few weeks from the program's launch on Jan 24, but as of last week only about 17,000 people had been vaccinated.

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