Health care workers could soon receive smallpox vaccine

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(Host) Vermont health care workers could be vaccinated for smallpox beginning as early as January, under a plan the state will submit to the federal government next week.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Each state is required to develop a plan for vaccinating health care workers, as a first step in an effort to prepare for a possible smallpox outbreak. The last naturally occurring case of smallpox in the U.S. was over fifty years ago, but it’s feared the disease could be used as a weapon by terrorists.

Officials say the possibility of an intentional outbreak is low, but the consequences are serious. Smallpox has a 30% mortality rate. Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Jan Carney says it’s too early to tell how many of Vermont’s health care workers will be vaccinated. She stressed that the program will be voluntary:

(Carney) “The plan we’re submitting is up to 2,000 people. We don’t yet know how many doses of the vaccine we’ll get. They are the types of people who’ll be need to respond and diagnose a case of smallpox in Vermont. For example, infectious disease specialists, physicians, nurses, epidemiologists, public health nurses who’ll be helping in the investigation and vaccinating.”

(Zind) The workers will divided into four public health response teams that would be mobilized in the event of an actual case of smallpox:

(Carney) “And then go ahead and have those vaccinated teams ready around the state. Vermont would have the ability to respond to a case nearby or a contact or an individual who could possibly have smallpox right here in Vermont.”

(Zind) Carney says volunteers will be screened to minimize the risk to workers. She says a small percentage of people have a life-threatening reaction to vaccine.

Future phases of the federally mandated plan could call on states to offering smallpox vaccinations to the public. But Carney says no decision has been made on whether that will be done.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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