(Washington, D.C) - Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray spoke at a hearing on America's plans to respond to a potential smallpox outbreak.
Murray is a strong advocate for strengthening our nation's bioterror preparations. She has worked to provide additional funding and information from the federal government to state and local responders.
At today's hearing of the Labor, HHS Appropriations Subcommittee, Murray outlined her concerns on smallpox reponse.
Senator Murray's opening remarks follow:
"Mr. Chairman, we all recognize that smallpox poses a threat. The questions we must answer are: How big is that threat? And is the Administration's plan appropriate and adequately funded?
From the Anthrax incident here in the Senate, we learned that we need to be prepared.
But today as we consider smallpox, many health care providers and hospital administrators do not have the information they need.
It's hard for them to evaluate the risks and benefits of inoculating their emergency response personnel.
There are simply too many unanswered questions and very few guidelines for helping health care professionals make this important decision.
This uncertainty has led S.E.I.U. -- one of the major unions representing nurses -- to advise its members to not receive the smallpox vaccine.
Similarly, many hospitals -- including several in Washington state -- have decided to not participate in Stage One of the Smallpox Response Plan.
We are already asking so much of our emergency room doctors and nurses. We shouldn't ask them to accept these new risks without giving them a better understanding of the actual threat.
Clearly, the Administration needs to do a better job of communicating the threat and the potential risks.
I also share the concern of many in my state that unfunded mandates on smallpox will limit their ability to respond to outbreaks of T.B. and other infectious diseases.
In addition to urging the Administration to provide more information about the risks and benefits, and to provide adequate funding, I would also urge the Administration to allow access to compensation for those workers who are injured or who suffer adverse health effects from the vaccine.
Relying on Workers Compensation is not the answer because the threshold is set too high, and the outcome is too uncertain.
Recently, I joined with several Senators in sending this message to the White House. I would urge today's witnesses from the Administration to carry this message back.
Injured workers and patients should be justly compensated for injury and harm.
As we address the smallpox threat, let's make sure we provide the information, the funding, and the compensation to enable our state and local governments and our health care professionals to respond appropriately."