Hawai'i health workers to get smallpox shots
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By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer
The smallpox vaccination of as many as 3,500 public health and healthcare workers in Hawai'i could begin as soon as next month under a plan devised by the state Health Department.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked each state to provide a plan for immunizing healthcare workers by Dec. 9. It will review each plan before vaccination can begin.
All healthcare workers receiving the vaccine would do so voluntarily. The plan is to allow a small number of health workers to receive the vaccination initially, depending on the role they would play in responding to an outbreak.
Public safety workers would be included in a second phase of vaccinations.
Hawai'i officials estimate 4,500 doses of the vaccine will be needed to cover the first 3,500 healthcare workers. The state has submitted a separate plan to the CDC describing its response to any smallpox outbreak.
The health department said it had not received notice from the federal government about when the vaccinations would begin, and none of the vaccine has been issued.
The Hawai'i plan includes "readiness teams" in each county, to include a medical epidemiologist or physician, epidemiology specialist, microbiologist or laboratory specialist, public health nurse or immunization specialist and a paramedical assistant. Vaccination clinics are planned for each county, and vaccines will be administered by health department nurses.
The state said local hospitals also were creating teams that would come together in an emergency so no single facility would be exhausted.
The state received a $9 million grant from the CDC in May to run a bioterrorism preparedness program. That effort now includes 35 staff members and works with local and national institutions to keep up on the latest plans and events.
"The probability of an intentional release of smallpox virus is low, but because the outcome is so serious, as with any infectious disease we must be ready to respond," said Dr. Paul Effler, state Health Department communicable disease division chief.