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Last Updated

20 Mar 2003

Source: Newsday, March 19, 2003

Pace of Smallpox Inoculations Picks Up

By LINDSEY TANNER, AP Medical Writer

CHICAGO -- The pace of smallpox shots for U.S. health care workers is picking up, with vaccinations under way in all but one state, federal health officials said Wednesday.

Still, with nearly 21,698 workers vaccinated so far, the numbers remain far short of the original goal of up to 450,000, Centers of Disease Control and Prevention officials said at the agency's annual National Immunization Conference.

CDC officials encouraged state and local public health workers gathered at the Chicago conference to get the shots, which are voluntary.

"We're off to a bit of a slow start but the movement is accelerating," the CDC's Dr. Raymond Strikas said.

Through March 7, there have been no life-threatening adverse reactions from the vaccinations reported to the CDC, six moderate-to-severe reactions and eight unclassified reactions, Strikas said.

While reports of rashes and itchiness are fairly common, the number of serious adverse reactions "has been remarkably few and we hope that will continue," Strikas told an audience of several hundred public health care workers from around the country.

While the number of vaccinated workers remains somewhat low, far more are better prepared to recognize smallpox if a case or outbreak should occur than before the government program began in January, officials said.

Concern over potentially deadly health risks linked to the vaccine has discouraged many health care workers from getting the shots. Officials have estimated that between 14 and 52 people out of every million being vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening side effects and one or two will die.

Several unvaccinated workers at the conference said only a documented case of smallpox would likely make them change their minds.

"There are still too many unanswered questions (about the vaccination)," said Vonda Keels, a registered nurse from Ohio.

Nationwide, 279,000 doses of smallpox vaccine have been shipped and all states except Nevada have begun vaccinating, CDC officials said. Nevada officials say training is expected to begin next week, with vaccination starting in April.

Strikas said about 24 percent of acute-care hospitals nationwide -- 1,186 -- have had at least one employee vaccinated.

In the U.S. military's inoculation program, over 300,000 "operational forces" have been vaccinated but serious complication rates also are low, said Dr. John Grabenstein, chief architect of the Department of Defense vaccination program.

There have been two reported cases of encephalitis, and fewer than 10 of myocarditis, a heart muscle inflammation possibly linked to the vaccine, Grabenstein said. Those patients recovered and returned to duty, he said.

There have been no reports of hospitalized patients becoming ill from contact with vaccinated military health care workers, Grabenstein said.