Vermont Receives Smallpox Vaccine

Vermont’s Pre-Event Smallpox Vaccination Program Plan

For Immediate Release
January 22, 2003
News media contact:
Nancy Erickson
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON—Vermont’s plan to implement Phase 1 of the National Smallpox Vaccination Program has been approved by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and today the state has taken delivery of 2,000 doses of smallpox vaccine.

Vermont, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Los Angeles County, California are the first localities to receive the vaccine, which will be used to protect designated key public health, health care and first response workers who would be called upon to respond to an outbreak of smallpox.

The first Vermont vaccinations could take place before the end of the month, Vermont health officials said. Four Vermont Department of Health nurses, who have themselves been trained by CDC to administer the vaccine, will be the first to be vaccinated. These nurses will in turn vaccinate other public health and health care workers over the coming months.

“This is the next step in a careful, deliberate process to prepare our state and the nation for any public health emergency,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Jan K. Carney.

“Although the possibility of an intentional release of smallpox virus is still considered low, even a single case would be a public health emergency,” Carney said. “We must have a core team vaccinated and ready to respond quickly and effectively. Thanks to the tremendous work and dedication of our state‘s public health workers, hospitals and partners in emergency response, I am confident that we will be prepared.”

Phase 1 of the National Smallpox Vaccination Program includes vaccination of designated health care workers across the nation who will make up the first public health and health care response teams. This includes personnel in hospitals who might first come in contact with an infected patient, and those health personnel who would be assigned to investigate cases, track contacts, vaccinate people, and institute measures to control the spread of disease. Phase 1 also includes a limited number of public safety and emergency medical services personnel.

There are no plans as yet to move to Phase 2—offering voluntary vaccination to all health care and public safety workers nationally—and vaccination is NOT recommended for the general public.

Under Vermont’s Phase 1 plan, only certain hospital, Health Department and first responder employees who have been designated by their employers will be eligible.

All volunteers must have been previously vaccinated, and be fully informed, carefully screened for contraindications to the vaccine, and willing to serve on state response teams. The Vermont Department of Health is working closely with the state’s hospitals and the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS) to begin designating and educating potential response team members.

“We have not yet determined how many will be vaccinated in Phase 1, but now we have the capacity to vaccinate up to 2,000 people,” said Dr. Carney. “It’s important to keep in mind that there are risks associated with the vaccine, and participation in the vaccination program is entirely voluntary.

“The smallpox vaccine is considered safe and effective for most people, but harmful—even life-threatening—for some. We want to take all the time that is needed to be sure that volunteers are carefully screened and have all the information available to make a fully informed decision.”

Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, people with eczema, HIV/AIDS patients, organ-transplant recipients, and chemotherapy patients should NOT be vaccinated, unless they have actually been exposed to smallpox.

Vermont’s plan to implement Phase 1 of the National Smallpox Vaccination Program was submitted to CDC on Dec. 9. A separate plan, describing how Vermont would respond to a case of smallpox, has also been developed by the Vermont Department of Health and was submitted to CDC on Dec. 1.

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, sometimes fatal disease caused by the variola virus, which emerged in human populations thousands of years ago. Historically, smallpox kills 30 percent of unvaccinated people who develop symptoms.

Smallpox was declared eradicated in 1980 following a successful worldwide vaccination program. No one on earth has contracted natural smallpox since 1977. In the United States, routine vaccination of the general public was discontinued in 1972, when the risk of serious adverse reaction (including death) from the vaccine was determined to outweigh the actual threat of disease.

The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. Vermont’s last case was in 1937.

For more information about smallpox, smallpox vaccine, or Vermont’s preparedness and response plans: www.HealthyVermonters.info.

For confidential answers to your questions about smallpox, smallpox vaccine or the National Smallpox Vaccination Program, call the CDC public information hotline: