The spread of influenza A has now reached pandemic proportions. The focus has now been directed to creating a vaccine to halt the rapid community spread. The next challenge to workers’ compensation systems may be claims resulting from adverse reactions to employer sponsored vaccination programs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) had now declared the outbreak of the novel influenza A to be a world wide pandemic. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization, announced today, “The world is now at the start of the 2009 influenza pandemic.” “The virus is contagious, spreading easily from one person to another, and from one country to another. As of today, nearly 30,000 confirmed cases have been reported in 74 countries.”
The need for the development and distribution of a preventative vaccine is of critical importance. Dr. Chan stated, “WHO has been in close dialogue with influenza vaccine manufacturers. I understand that production of vaccines for seasonal influenza will be completed soon, and that full capacity will be available to ensure the largest possible supply of pandemic vaccine in the months to come.”
Workers’ Compensation programs have been challenged by compensable claims in the past resulting from adverse reactions to vaccines. In many jurisdictions, vaccinations afforded to employees which provide benefit to the employer against possible disastrous business consequences have been considered to be a mutual benefit. Therefore any disease arising from such vaccination has been deemed compensable.
To shield both employers and pharmaceutical companies from liability claims, the federal government established a no-fault program entitled the Smallpox Emergency Personnel Protection Act of 2003 (SEPPA) in an effort to provide benefits and/or compensation to certain individuals, including health-care workers and emergency responders, who are injured as a result of the administration of smallpox countermeasures including the smallpox (vaccinia) vaccine. SEPPA also provides benefits and/or compensation to certain individuals who are injured through the result of accidental vaccinia inoculation through contact.
Many questions remain unanswered including: the ultimate spread of the disease, the development of an effective vaccine, and whether the workers’ compensation system will need to absorb claims resulting from adverse reactions. One thing is for sure, as Dr. Chan declared today. “We are all in this together, and we will all get through this, together.”