Injured employees can file for smallpox benefits

HHS releases criteria, forms for injured vaccinees

Employees who have suffered from medical injuries related to the smallpox vaccine now can file for federal benefits.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) published an interim rule in the Federal Register Dec. 16, setting criteria for compensation.

HHS had previously published a Smallpox Vaccine Injury Compensation Table listing "medical injuries and adverse effects presumed to have been caused by a smallpox vaccine or contact."

Injured vaccinees can apply immediately, even though the rule may change somewhat after a period of public comment. Vaccinia contacts and survivors of recipients who died from vaccine-related complications also are eligible for compensation. Congress provided $42 million to provide for medical costs, lost wages, and death benefits.

The table covers the adverse events generally associated with the smallpox vaccine, such as inadvertent inoculation or generalized vaccinia. It also includes myo- and pericarditis, inflammation of the heart that has been linked to the vaccine.

Fifty-eight of about 500,000 vaccinated military personnel developed myo- or pericarditis; 22 of 38,489 civilian health care workers and first responders who were vaccinated developed the condition. Public health officials also reported that two health care workers and two military vaccinees developed dilated hearts, a severe cardiomyopathy that began gradually and was diagnosed three to five months after smallpox vaccination. Investigations continue on the possible link between those cases and the vaccine.

Cardiomyopathy is not listed on the HHS table, but that would not necessarily prevent it from being covered by the program.

"Because it is possible to incur a medical injury not listed on the table that may have been caused by a smallpox vaccination or contact, a person who can present sufficient evidence to prove likely causation may still be eligible for program benefits," the HHS stated.

[Editor’s note: More information about the compensation program is available at http://www.hrsa.gov/smallpox injury or at (888) 496-0338.]