Smallpox vaccine received
Aspen Times Staff Writer
A group of health-care providers in the Aspen area have received the smallpox vaccine as a precaution against terrorists bringing the virus to the United States.
These “immediate responders” are nurses and doctors in emergency rooms who would be the first people to come across a smallpox outbreak if it happened, said Yvonne Hernandez, Pitkin County Community Health Services director.
As part of a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment plan, the second statewide wave of vaccinations will be given to “first responders” of a potential outbreak. Hernandez said that means any local EMTs and police who would like to be vaccinated.
Third in line comes the general public – a process that’s not expected to be available until 2004.
“If we had an outbreak, all rules would be out the door and everyone would get a vaccination,” she said. “The few people who have been immunized will be the ones who will provide immunizations to other people in subsequent phases.”
Hernandez said after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, she did receive increased phone calls about the availability of the smallpox vaccine, especially during the anthrax scares just after the attacks. Since the war with Iraq began last week, she said she is still receiving calls about immunizations.
The smallpox vaccine was last given in the United States in 1972, just before the disease was completely eradicated. It provides immunity for three to five years, and its effectiveness diminishes after that.
The vaccine cannot give someone smallpox, because it contains a virus that is related to the smallpox virus, but is not actually smallpox.
Hernandez said she didn’t hear of any “real severe reactions” to the vaccination, but she notes that it’s “not a pretty vaccine.”
Rather than what people typically think of as a shot in the arm, the smallpox vaccine is put on the arm and then a two-pronged needle pricks the skin a dozen times. The needle breaks the skin so the vaccine can enter the body.
Three weeks’ worth of a wound is left behind by the vaccine – first the spot turns into a red and itchy bump that fills with pus. Once the bump drains, a scab forms, and by the third week the scab falls off and a small scar is left behind. Hernandez said these symptoms are a sign that the vaccination is working.
It’s also a great exercise in infection control, she said.
“It’s an excellent source of infection control education, because you have to keep it very clean, and wash your hands all the time,” Hernandez said. “Whoever gets the vaccine has to go through that.”
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