- The Washington Times - Monday, March 10, 2003

The Bush administration has tried to prepare the country against a smallpox attack. In fact, it has tried every method of persuasion at its disposal to motivate health care professionals to voluntarily take the smallpox vaccine.
It has tried patriotism, pointing out that first responders are on the front lines in the war against terrorism and that the smallpox virus is one of the most likely biological weapons to be used against this country. It has tried professionalism, arguing that during a smallpox attack, there is only a three-day window in which the vaccine can be applied before the virus will kill a third of those it infects. It has invoked the Hippocratic imperative, arguing that compassionate individuals pledged to maintaining the health of others ought to take the small risk of adverse effects from a smallpox vaccination.
None of this has been enough to overcome the resistance of health care providers. To date, less than 3 percent of the 500,000 health care workers that the administration hoped would volunteer for smallpox vaccinations have actually responded.
Patriotism and professionalism having failed, the administration has to resort to lucre. Specifically, it announced last week that it would provide a compensation package to those few medical professionals who are likely to become sickened by the smallpox vaccine. The administration's proposal is modeled after that given to police officers wounded while on duty. Individuals who miss more than five days of work as a result of adverse effects from the vaccine will be eligible for up to $50,000 in lost wages. Those who become permanently incapacitated could receive up to $262,100.
The compensation program is estimated to cost between $20 to $30 million. However, it could become more expensive once Congress is finished with it. Sen. Judd Gregg plans to sponsor the administration's bill. Rep. Henry Waxman plans to put forward a more costly package.
Not that either plan is likely to sate the greed of some. For instance, Chris Donnellan, associate director of government affairs for the American Nurses Association, told The Washington Post's Ceci Connolly, "We appreciate they [the administration] recognize it's a problem, but there's a long way to go from what we're looking for." The Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO have also expressed continued reluctance.
Thanks to that sort of stubbornness, the nation has lost precious months of preparation time. While health care professionals have been holding out for more compensation money, the smallpox virus has almost certainly been multiplying in the lab of a terrorist.
America cannot afford to lose many more months. Congress should pass a compensation plan as expeditiously as possible. In the meantime, those workers still holding out their hands for more should instead be hanging their heads in shame and offering their shoulders for a smallpox vaccination.

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