- The Washington Times - Friday, December 28, 2001

Few postal workers took the anthrax vaccines offered to them for the first time yesterday at two local mail-distribution centers.
The six postal workers who chose to get vaccinated by late afternoon were part of the first nonmilitary use of the vaccine. Hundreds of others were offered the vaccine, but either refused to take it or decided to delay their decision.
"I don't want to feel like a lab rat," said Bennie Barnett, a letter carrier at the V Street NE mail-distribution center. "They're not sure what it's going to do."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a 20-person team to Washington to inform postal workers about the vaccines and give them injections if wanted. The team plans to work out of different mail-distribution centers until Jan. 7.
The CDC chose Washington after two postal workers from the Brentwood mail-distribution center died and two others became ill from exposure to anthrax spores sent through the mail, leading to the Oct. 21 closing of the facility.
Similar vaccination campaigns were conducted in Florida Dec. 20-24 and in New York beginning yesterday. In northern New Jersey, they begin today. Anthrax-laced mail was found in each of the locations.
The first local sessions began yesterday morning at the V Street NE station and the Calvert distribution center in Hyattsville. By late afternoon, more than 100 workers at both locations consulted with CDC representatives on whether to get the vaccinations.
Today, the team will move to postal distribution centers in Gaithersburg and Capitol Heights.
One hour after Dennis Dumas, a mail-equipment maintenance technician, chose to get the vaccine yesterday, he said he was "fine now."
"At first, I was a little dizzy," he said.
Mr. Dumas is one of the Brentwood mail-distribution center workers displaced to other centers while Brentwood is closed and being decontaminated.
"My concern is that if we do go back to Brentwood, what kind of protection are we going to have?" he said. "Every day I'm concerned about it."
Other workers were not as easily convinced.
"One of my co-workers got sick just from taking the pills," Robert Johnson, a letter carrier, said, referring to the antibiotics intended to protect against anthrax. "His face blew up. He got red and got spots on his face. No telling what that needle is going to do to you."
Similar uncertainties prompted union leaders in New York to advise postal workers against getting the vaccinations. They said the postal workers were being used as "guinea pigs."
Union officials in Washington were more cautious in their advice to postal workers.
"We think they should very seriously consider the options being offered to them by the scientific community," said Sally Davidow, spokeswoman for the American Postal Workers Union office in Washington.
About 2,100 postal workers from the Brentwood facility were given antibiotics in October. They also are eligible for the vaccines, in addition to continuing with more antibiotics.
Antibiotics are medicines used to fight a disease after the patient has contracted it and are effective only as long as they are used repeatedly. Vaccines given to avoid disease cause a reaction of the immune system that builds long-term resistance to viruses or bacteria.
"CDC doesn't recommend one over the other," said Sandra Smith, CDC spokeswoman. "We want to offer people the choice."
She said she was not surprised by the small number of postal workers who chose to be vaccinated.
"That's to be expected," Mrs. Smith said. "It's a big decision. People need some time to think about it."
She downplayed any risks from the vaccines.
"It's not experimental," she said. "It's been used by the military."
Of the half-million military personnel vaccinated, only five developed serious allergic reactions, she said.
Others who suffered side effects complained of temporary redness and swelling around the point of injection, headaches and fatigue.
Nevertheless, concern among military personnel prompted as many as 200 of them to disobey orders and refuse to be vaccinated last year.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved the anthrax vaccinations this month after a recommendation from the CDC. However, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved the vaccine, citing a lack of evidence that it is effective.


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