Civilians to receive smallpox vaccinations

Posted: Sunday, January 26, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The state plans to start vaccinating civilians for smallpox next month in Anchorage.

The state employees' union and the Alaska Nurses Association, meanwhile, are seeking an agreement to protect workers who experience adverse reactions to the vaccinations.

Talks on the agreement are under way, according to a statement Friday from the nurses association.

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.

Connecticut was the first state to begin a program, performing its first vaccinations on Friday. On Tuesday, Alaska will receive ''a few vials'' of smallpox, said state epidemiologist Beth Funk.

The vials will each carry 100 doses of the smallpox vaccine from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Four vaccination clinics one week apart are planned to begin on Feb. 20, all in Anchorage. Altogether, 175 vaccinations are planned for health care workers in all regions of the state who would be the ones to respond if a smallpox outbreak occurred in Alaska or if the president called for more widespread vaccination clinics.

The volunteers will receive special training before receiving the shots.

''The training has to do with everything form how to screen, how to give vaccinations -- to what the adverse reactions are,'' Funk told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

The vaccinations are voluntary.

Smallpox is a highly contagious disease that could be fatal for 30 percent of infected people. It was eradicated, except under controlled circumstances in certain labs, in the United States a half century ago, and routine smallpox vaccinations ceased in 1972.

Adverse reactions to the inoculation were common. Reactions included swelling, soreness and fever and one out of three people felt bad enough to miss work.

About 1,000 people out of every million vaccinated for the first time experienced reactions -- mainly skin rashes-considered non-life-threatening but serious enough to require medical attention. Between 14 and 52 people per million vaccinated for the first time experienced potentially life-threatening reactions such as skin infections and inflammation of the brain.

In the most extreme cases, one to two people out of every million vaccinated died.

The union wants the state to pay lost wages and medical bills should a worker miss work or seek treatment because of an inoculation. The union is also asking vaccination volunteers be covered by workers' compensation if anything goes seriously wrong.

Fewer medical workers than expected volunteered for the vaccination in Connecticut because similar issues have gone unresolved.

As of Wednesday, 20 states had requested nearly 100,000 doses of vaccine. The military is well into vaccinating its personnel for smallpox. The military vaccination program is not voluntary, though those likely to have serious or life-threatening reactions would not be forced to comply.

About 120 military medical personnel at Fort Wainwright near Fairbanks and Fort Richardson in Anchorage were expected to receive the vaccination starting Thursday.

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