- 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
- But CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said there were
plenty of volunteers and said the agency was moving ahead quickly with
- "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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