State: workers can make claims for bad reactions to smallpox vaccine

By CARRIE SPENCER, Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Health care workers who have serious reactions to smallpox vaccines received on the job may file claims to recover the cost of medical care and lost work time, the Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation announced Friday.

"Already volunteers, these health care professionals are performing a valuable service protecting their communities. They need to know we will be there to protect them," said James Conrad, the bureau's administrator and chief executive.

President Bush announced a smallpox vaccination program Dec. 13 for the military, emergency responders and health care workers to protect against potential bioterrorism attacks. The vaccination also will be made available to the public early in 2003, Bush said, although he did not recommend it for most Americans.

The Ohio Department of Health earlier had submitted for federal approval a plan to inoculate 13,000 key health workers in the state. Participation by doctors, nurses and others would be voluntary.

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide by 1980 and hasn't been seen in the United States since 1949. However, there are concerns that terrorists may have obtained research samples to stockpile for use in weapons.

The shot carries rare but serious side effects. One or two out of every 1 million vaccinated will be killed by the vaccine, and 15 will face life-threatening complications.

Most people will experience swelling and redness in the area of the shot and possibly a fever, muscle aches and swollen lymph nodes.

Workers who experience more serious side effects -- such as widespread rash, sores, inflammation of the brain or spinal cord -- or who cannot work for more than seven consecutive work days because of illness may file workers compensation claims, a Workers' Compensation fact sheet says.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)