FAIRBANKS (AP) -- About 120 medical personnel from Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks and Fort Richardson in Anchorage will soon be vaccinated against smallpox.
The move is in response to an executive order issued by President Bush on Dec. 13.
The vaccinations will be given only to selected people, most of them medical personnel, who may respond if there is an outbreak of the smallpox virus, said Col. Matt Raymond, chief of preventive medicine at Fort Wainwright.
''This is just a basic preparation in response to the executive order,'' Raymond said.
The order to inoculate the entire Army hasn't come, he said, because, so far, the threat of an outbreak of the highly fatal virus is low. In 1980 the World Health Organization declared smallpox officially eradicated, but samples of the variola virus, which causes smallpox, were kept in two centers, one in Moscow and one at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Because of the instability in Russia, terrorists ''might already have or could obtain'' the virus and use it as a biological weapon, Raymond said.
''It's not out there until somebody releases it deliberately,'' he said. A handful of people, including Raymond and the commander of Bassett Army Community Hospital, Col. Bryan Gamble, were inoculated at a post clinic Thursday after Raymond gave a briefing to post medical soldiers and civilians.
The rest of the 120 personnel will be vaccinated starting Jan. 23. Those deployed to high-threat areas will also be inoculated, but Raymond said no one at Fort Wainwright fits into this category yet. Also as part of the directive, health-care providers will be trained to detect smallpox.
Smallpox is a highly contagious disease that could be fatal for 30 percent of infected people.
''If we had an outbreak it would certainly disrupt military operations,'' Raymond said.
The vaccine has not been given to people for the past 30 years and not to service members in basic training since 1989.
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