Vermont prepares for smallpox vaccinations

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(Host) President Bush Friday announced plans to administer smallpox vaccines to some military personnel and health care workers. It’s expected up to 2,000 Vermonters could receive the vaccinations.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports:

(Zind) Smallpox was eradicated in 1980 and vaccines haven’t been administered in the United State for 30 years, but there are fears the disease could be used as a biological weapon by terrorists. Vermont plans to prepare for that possibility by asking 2,000 medical workers to volunteer for vaccinations. This would include doctors, nurses, lab workers and emergency medical personnel. According to Vermont Health Commissioner Dr. Jan Carney, the vaccinations will start in late January.

Officials in some states say they’re concerned they won’t be ready to administer the vaccines by then, and the nation’s largest health care workers union has also warned that the government hasn’t done enough to protect workers receiving the smallpox vaccine. Carney says her department expects to be ready when the vaccine becomes available and she doesn’t think there will be any shortage of volunteers willing to be vaccinated for smallpox.

(Carney) “I expect that people will volunteer and we will be very thorough in our efforts to provide them all the information they need to make that decision, particularly with regards to those medical conditions that would pose an increased risk to the adverse effects of the vaccine.”

(Zind) In the next month, Vermont health care workers will be learning a lot more about smallpox. Mike Dowdy of the Rutland Regional Medical Center says the hospital has been working with the health department to gear up for the vaccinations:

(Dowdy) “We will offer all the information that we have to our staff before they take that vaccine.”

(Zind) Sue Lucas is a nurse at Copley Hospital in Morrisville. Lucas says she needs to know more before she would volunteer:

(Lucas) “I have mixed feelings about it. I don’t think we have enough information right now.”

(Zind) Jan Carney says volunteers will be carefully screened to make sure they’re not at risk. Carney emphasizes that right now smallpox vaccines are not being recommended for the general public.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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