- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 11, 2002


Every state in the nation is preparing to offer the smallpox vaccine to front-line medical workers, ready to begin a massive education and vaccination program once President Bush gives the word.

But an Associated Press survey of states suggests wide variations in how many people they plan to vaccinate and how many hospitals they expect will participate in this first round of inoculations.

States were supposed to submit plans for the first stage of smallpox vaccinations by Monday to the federal government. Immunizations will begin after a presidential announcement, expected in coming days, and states have been told they will have 30 days to deliver the shots.

The first group to be offered the risky vaccine will include those most likely to encounter a highly contagious smallpox patient: people on smallpox response teams, who would investigate suspicious cases, and workers in hospital emergency rooms.

Nationwide, federal officials have said that about a half-million people are expected in this first group, but officials said Monday they now expect the numbers to be slightly lower. They estimate that up to a half-million people will be offered the shots, but that some will decline and others be screened out because of conditions that make them susceptible to dangerous side effects.

No matter what the final number, the AP survey suggests that these shots are not likely to be evenly distributed.

Georgia is planning shots for just 300 to 500 people, while Louisiana anticipates as many as 20,000. California has requested 70,000 doses of the vaccine, while Michigan is asking for 5,000 to 7,000.

In Michigan, the state plans to offer the vaccine at 30 hospitals.

"We don't necessarily need it in every corner or at every hospital," said Geralyn Lasher of the Michigan Department of Community Health.

Twice as many hospitals are expected to participate in Montana, and North Dakota plans to have at least one team of 15 vaccinated health care workers at each of the state's 46 hospitals.

In North Dakota, the state's vastness and lightly populated rural areas make it important that all hospitals are capable of helping a smallpox victim, said Tim Wiedrich, bioterrorism coordinator for the North Dakota Health Department.

"We really believe that it's likely that smallpox patients could present themselves at any of our hospitals," he said.

Jerry Hauer, the top bioterrorism official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he is not surprised by the variation.

"We wanted to give them that flexibility," he said.

Smallpox, which historically killed 30 percent of its victims, was once one of the world's most feared diseases. At the same time, experts estimate that the vaccine will kill one or two out of every million people being vaccinated for the first time, and 15 will suffer life-threatening side effects.

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