WASHINGTON -- Congress and the White House approved a compensation package Friday for persons injured by the smallpox vaccine, ending months of delay and disagreement in hopes of jump-starting the government's stalled inoculation program.
"The plan should have gone forward long before now," said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., who brokered a compromise with White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. "We have no time to spare in protecting the nation from a bioterrorist attack."
The Bush administration's premiere anti-bioterrorism program has been hobbled by the absence of a plan to pay medical expenses, lost wages and other damages to health-care workers and first responders harmed by the vaccine.
The program is not designed to help vaccine volunteers who experience minor side effects. Rather, said a Senate Democratic aide, it is "set up to catch people who would otherwise be stranded" -- the families of those who die as a result of the vaccine and volunteers whose injuries leave them with major medical bills and unable to work.
The program would pay a surviving spouse a lump sum of $262,000. A surviving spouse with children could choose between the $262,000 and payments of up to $50,000 a year in lost wages until the children turn 18.
In addition to full medical benefits, workers permanently disabled by the vaccine would receive up to $50,000 a year in lost wages, with no lifetime limit. For other injured workers, wage replacements would be limited to $262,000.
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