Area healthcare workers vaccinated against small pox


The Visiting Nurse Association Thursday announced that a group of regional healthcare workers were vaccinated against smallpox virus this week in Steamboat Springs.

Twelve people - public health and hospital staff -- received the vaccinations. Six each working in Moffat and Routt counties took the shot, while VNA officials declined to name the individuals or when and where the vaccine was delivered.

"We don't want to cause a panic," said Susan Bowler, VNA public health nurse for Moffat and Routt counties. "The more important message is that the team is vaccinated and they're in place if something happens in our area."

Vaccinations nationwide continue to move forward despite known risks for recipients and those close to them.

"These teams consist of local hospital and public healthcare workers who have volunteered ... (to respond to outbreaks) ... and receive the vaccination," the VNA reported in a news release.

The vaccinations meet an initial goal of a Bush Administration plan, which ordered teams be prepared in each community to be able to vaccinate large populations within five days of a smallpox case anywhere in the United States.

Bowler said the same team also could give the vaccination, administered voluntarily, to first-responders and law enforcement possibly handling an outbreak, as well as medical colleagues.

Smallpox is a contagious, potentially fatal disease bringing fever and skin rashes. It was believed to have been eradicated in the late 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Smallpox vaccine contains the virus "vaccinia," which the CDC says is related to smallpox, although milder. The Bush response plan for terror-related outbreaks of the disease calls for public availability in 2004.

"The federal government is not recommending vaccination for the general public at this time, as there is no information that a biological attack is imminent," according to the VNA.

All volunteers vaccinated this past week were screened for, and briefed on, various health risks associated with the vaccine, Bowler said. One in a million recipients die from it, while it can also be spread up to a two- to three-week period afterward until a scab left by the shot falls off, according to CDC.

Also, the agency says vaccine recipients "should not be in close contact (household or physically intimate)" with pregnant women, people with weakened immune systems, eczema or atopic dermatitis or other skin conditions.

Bowler said at least two volunteers attending this week's vaccination backed out after hearing from medical professionals.

Smallpox vaccine was routinely given to the public as late as 1972, according to CDC. Since then, Bowler said conditions -- particularly more frequent eczema cases and generally weaker immune systems -- increase risks for today's population.

She said that several in recent months have questioned whether risks associated with the vaccine are justified by vague bio-terrorism scenarios.

Preparedness should take priority, Bowler said.

"We know it's out there and prevention is what public health is all about."

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at

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