Smallpox shots on the way
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment will submit a voluntary plan today to “vaccinate the vaccinators,” Dr. Ned Cologne, the state’s acting chief medical officer, said Thursday. The state plans to ask for between 600 and 1,200 vaccines, he said.
Similar plans are being prepared by each state at the direction of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Although the plan will be submitted today, Cologne said, the state has received no indication there is an immediate threat of smallpox in Colorado or in the United States.
“This is being done strictly as a precautionary measure. It will give us a jump-start in preparation if we have a smallpox outbreak,” Cologne said. “It is part of the department’s ongoing bioterrorism and emergency preparedness activities, which have been underway since 1999.”
In recent years, the United States has come to fear that smallpox could be a potent biological weapon. Sarah Moody, senior vice president of operations at Vail Valley Medical Center, said about 15 employees at the hospital fall into the response-team category, a combination of emergency room personnel and doctors who provide around-the-clock care. County health personnel also would receive the vaccine, Calonge said.
“We’re taking a very slow and methodical process,” Moody said. “Were just following the directions of the department of health. Once we get the direction, we will seek volunteers.”
The first group to get the vaccine will be military personnel, health-care and emergency-response workers. The second group would include law-enforcement officers, emergency medical technicians, firefighters and hazardous materials teams.
The vaccines could be offered to the general public in 2004 if the risks are high enough, Calonge said.
“We don’t believe it is necessary for all Coloradans to receive the vaccine at this time,” Calonge said. “If a case of smallpox were to be diagnosed in this state, we would have five days to vaccinate the persons that individual had come in contact with. That would be plenty of time to provide protection to those individuals.”
The reason the state and the country are preparing to pre-vaccinate public health and hospital workers in Colorado now is because then the teams will be ready to vaccinate and care for other Coloradans in the unlikely event a smallpox disease outbreak occurs, Calonge said.
“I don’t think there’s anything to worry about,” Moody said. “Nobody has seen a smallpox case in years. I don’t think people need to run and get vaccinated. This isn’t a innocuous vaccine; people can have a reaction to it.”
Most people experience normal, typically mild reactions, indicating the vaccine is beginning to work, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The vaccine, however, can cause serious side effects – and in rare cases death. Because of health risks, the vaccine is not recommended for everyone. People who should not be vaccinated include pregnant women, people with immune systems problems due to diseases like AIDS or treatments like chemotherapy, people with certain skin conditions, and people living with someone less than a year old.
“If the time comes that more Coloradans require immunizations against smallpox, we will be prepared and there will be sufficient supplies of vaccines,” Calonge said.
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