- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

While the first shots of an experimental anthrax vaccine were given on Capitol Hill yesterday, federal scientists took steps to quell confusion among U.S. Postal Service employees about who should take the vaccine.
There are three groups of individuals to seriously consider taking it, said Dr. Jeffrey Koplan, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
The groups include:
About 70 congressional staffers who had significant contact with an anthrax-laced powder or envelope; specifically, those in the room or close by when the anthrax-packed letter was opened Oct. 15 in the office of Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat.
People who worked in environments heavily contaminated with anthrax; specifically, postal facilities in New Jersey and the District, where the Daschle letter and another anthrax letter to Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, were processed nearly three months ago.
Anyone who worked in areas where someone became infected with inhalation anthrax.
Mr. Koplan said more specific information will be given on a one-on-one basis with postal employees when teams of experts are dispatched to their regions during the next week.
"We're doing the best we can to offer the best public-health effort possible," he said. "We would love to have a list [of those who need the vaccine], but we don't."
The vaccine given to 38 congressional staffers yesterday was approved Tuesday by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson. The vaccine was recommended as an extra anthrax-therapy option for about 3,000 persons on the East Coast, who had been given a 60-day cycle of preventative antibiotics in mid-October.
Anthrax spores were found in the noses of 28 congressional staffers two days after the Daschle letter was opened on the fifth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building. The staffers, along with hundreds of other government employees, were given antibiotics.
Days later, two D.C. Postal workers died of inhalation anthrax, prompting health officials to include thousands of postal workers in the 60-day preventative treatment.
In explaining the sudden availability of the experimental anthrax vaccine, federal health officials have cited animal studies in which anthrax spores lurked in the body for more than 60 days.
It has never been proven that anthrax could live for more than 60 days in a human body, but experts believe the anthrax used in the Daschle and Leahy letters was so potent, they aren't taking any chances.
The Health and Human Services Department also approved an extended cycle of antibiotics for individuals who don't want the vaccine, but still wish to continue preventative therapy.
The CDC is making anyone who wants the vaccination sign a consent form, which outlines side effects, including swelling sometimes severe and lasting weeks at the injection site, and rare but sometimes serious allergic reactions.
Postal Service officials yesterday were satisfied with the information provided by the CDC. "CDC officials are preparing materials that detail how antibiotics or vaccinations would be made available to Postal Service employees who seek them," Postal Service spokesman Azeezaly S. Jaffer said in a statement.
Health experts from the CDC were scheduled to arrive in the District as early as last night, Mr. Jaffer said. "The CDC and the Postal Service are currently working together to provide additional precautionary medication and vaccinations as early as Dec. 27."
One problem with making a list of who needs the vaccine is that health officials aren't able to document exactly who was in the room when high concentrations of anthrax spores may have been released from the letters, Dr. Koplan said.
In response to newspaper reports that postal workers were angry because congressional staffers got the vaccine before them, one Postal Service spokesman told The Washington Times the reports were "not a fair characterization" of what was going on in the postal community.
Meanwhile, the Hart building, which shut down Oct. 17, remains closed while the Environmental Protection Agency continues to try to destroy lingering anthrax spores. The Brentwood mail-processing center also remains closed. The CDC said yesterday that recent testing in the center found more widespread anthrax contamination and more intense concentration of bacteria than the Postal Service's previous testing in November.

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