Smallpox vaccinations begin locally

Healthcare workers to get shots as part of three-phase plan

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Local health officials are moving ahead with plans to immunize medical staff against a smallpox outbreak at the same time the vaccination is not being recommended to the public.

The vaccine -- which all emergency personnel directly involved in a possible bio-terrorism event must receive -- isn't recommended to the public "because there currently is no credible information about an immediate smallpox threat anywhere in the United States," according to a news release from the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

The VNA's release was based on guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control, said Susan Bowler, public health nurse manager for Moffat and Routt

counties.

Some hospitals refuse to vaccinate employees because of the shot's potentially fatal side effects and risks that workers could inadvertently spread the virus to patients or family members.

One to two persons per million recipients die of the vaccination.

"They're (the CDC) hoping to have a synthetic vaccine which causes less side effects (by 2004)," Bowler said. "As long as there's no immediate danger, they don't want to risk this vaccine."

Moreover, Bowler and others say the CDC's position is consistent with a three-phase preparedness plan implemented by the Bush administration for the disease, which hasn't occurred naturally since the late 1970s.

By late 2004, the plan calls for a vaccination to be ready and available free to the public, which would be the third phase of Bush's plan.

Public health workers and hospital crews handling an outbreak come first, followed by remaining staff at medical facilities.

"With a smallpox case, that whole plan goes away and we start immunizing," said Beka Warren, infection control nurse at The Memorial Hospital. "But regardless of what happens, you have to have people trained to handle the vaccine."

Warren said TMH continuous to support immunizing its employees, while a team that would have first contact with an outbreak hasn't be settled.

All potential volunteers are screened for conditions that raise risks associated with the shot. Those with emphysema, psoriasis, weakened immune systems or infants at home, cannot receive it.

Bowler added that about half of those interested in volunteering have expressed some degree of concern about the vaccination.

"There are no guarantees," she said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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