Vermont Holds Its First Smallpox Vaccination Clinic

For immediate release:
February 13, 2003

News Media Contacts: Nancy Erickson
Vermont Department of Health
802-863-7281

BURLINGTON—Fourteen Vermonters, mostly Health Department employees, were vaccinated today in the state’s first smallpox vaccination clinic, held at the Vermont Department of Health in Burlington.

Vermont received 2,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on January 22. On January 27, six public health nurses were the first in Vermont, and among the first in the nation, to be vaccinated as part of Phase 1 of the National Smallpox Vaccination Program.

“The possibility of an intentional release of smallpox virus is still considered low, but even a single case would be a public health emergency. Our goal is to have a core team vaccinated and ready to respond quickly and effectively,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Jan Carney. “I’m proud of our volunteers who are stepping forward to help our state be fully prepared to respond if needed.”

Phase 1 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.

Under Vermont’s Phase 1 plan, only certain hospital, Health Department and first responder employees who have been designated by their employer are eligible. All volunteers must have been previously vaccinated, and be fully informed and personally counseled about contraindications to the vaccine, and willing to serve on smallpox response teams.

There are no plans as yet to offer vaccination to all health care and first response workers (Phase 2), and vaccination is NOT recommended for the general public.

“The smallpox vaccine is considered safe and effective for most people, but it can be harmful — even life threatening — for some,” said Dr. Carney. “That’s why it is so important for each volunteer to have full information before making a decision.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of February 11, a total of 1,043 civilians across the country have been vaccinated as part of Phase 1, with no serious reactions reported.

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.

Smallpox is a serious, contagious, sometimes fatal disease caused by the variola virus. There is no specific treatment for smallpox disease, and the only prevention is vaccination. Vaccination within three days of exposure will completely prevent, or significantly lessen the disease in the vast majority of persons. 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 reaction to the vaccine (including death) 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:

888-246-2857 Spanish
866-874-2846 TTY