Hawai'i to begin smallpox program
By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Health Writer
State health officials expect to begin giving smallpox vaccinations to about 3,500 healthcare workers next month.
Vaccine risks and benefits
Smallpox is a contagious disease marked by fever and a distinctive, progressive skin rash. It can kill 30 percent of those infected and leave survivors scarred or blind.
Last week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said shipments would begin today to some of the states that have indicated they are ready to distribute the vaccine to certain workers.
Okubo said the Health Department would begin administering the vaccine shortly after shipments arrive from the National Pharmaceutical Stockpile.
The state has submitted to federal officials its plan for initial immunization. "We don't actually know at this time when it's going to come in," Okubo said.
On Jan. 6, trainers from the CDC began teaching state workers how to give the vaccine. Okubo said those 19 workers would train others on the proper procedures, and the vaccination process should take several weeks.
The federal government has been ramping up its smallpox prevention program because of the possibility that terrorists could try to spread the disease.
Officials believe such a risk is low, Okubo said, but "it's important for us to protect these teams of people who are actually our protectors."
Federal officials at the CDC plan to vaccinate as many as 10.5 million health workers and police, fire and emergency personnel, despite the urging of a scientific advisory committee to proceed cautiously.
On Friday, a committee from the Institute of Medicine asked the CDC to provide more information about risks and benefits of the vaccine to workers being asked to volunteer for it.
The panel and labor unions have asked whether employees who get sick in reaction to the vaccine will be reimbursed for lost wages and medical expenses.
Okubo said the department is surveying to determine who is eligible and willing to get the shot. The vaccine has risks and a history of adverse reactions for some.
But "even though it has its risks," Okubo said, vaccination "is the best protection against the disease."
CDC officials say smallpox vaccinations remain effective for three to five years, so civilians who were vaccinated in the 1970s and earlier would need new shots.
Federal officials have said they are pushing ahead with the program at the urging of President Bush.
Reach Robbie Dingeman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 535-2429.