US Delivers First Civilian
Smallpox Vaccines

By Maggie Fox
Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The first doses of smallpox vaccine have been delivered to four states, ready to inoculate more than 20,000 health and emergency workers in case of an attack, federal health officials said on Wednesday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it had sent vaccine kits to Connecticut, Nebraska, Vermont and Los Angeles County in California.
"As of today, 20 states and one county have requested nearly 100,000 doses of vaccine," the CDC said in a statement.
The CDC is moving ahead with a plan to vaccinate half a million health and emergency workers against smallpox, so they can safely help anyone who may be infected in a biological attack.
Smallpox was wiped out in 1979 but experts fear countries such as Iraq, and perhaps terrorist groups, could use the virus as a weapon. Smallpox is infectious and kills 30 percent of its victims.
Unions have questioned President Bush's decision to eventually vaccinate 8 million to 10 million health and emergency workers, noting the dangerous side effects of the vaccine and the lack of any federal program to compensate those who may be injured by it.
Last week, a panel of experts appointed by the Institute of Medicine also questioned the policy but said market forces may decide. They said health workers should feel free to refuse to get the vaccine and if enough did, the government should get the message that the plan needed adjusting.
But CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said there were plenty of volunteers and said the agency was moving ahead quickly with the plan.
"At this time, our highest priority is to vaccinate members of smallpox response teams in the states," she said in a statement.
"Several months of detailed planning and training, and the development of scientifically sound and informative educational materials, have prepared us for the safe and rapid implementation of the plan to vaccinate those healthcare professionals who would be on the front lines in the event of a smallpox attack."
The vaccine that wiped out smallpox is old and causes many side effects. It kills between one and two in every million people who get it, and Americans may be more vulnerable to side effects than in the 1970s, when general vaccination ended.
But the Bush administration decided the risk was worth taking in view of the possible threat of biological attack. Experts have warned of the risk for years but officials became especially concerned after the October 2001 letter-borne anthrax attacks that killed five people.
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