Local News

Smallpox Vaccine Ready For Military, Health Care Workers

Posted December 13, 2002 5:11 a.m. EST

— Local health care workers are starting a new smallpox vaccination plan that calls for several phases of vaccination.

More than one million military and health care workers will be the first to get the vaccination.

Doctors said because the vaccines are risky and there has not been a case of smallpox in years, choosing to go forward with the vaccination plan was a difficult decision.

Sara Hauser, a nurse at Wake County Human Services, said she is used to giving vaccines for illnesses like the flu, not smallpox.

"I really never thought I'd be in a situation that I would be learning how to administer it," said Hauser.

As part of President Bush's vaccination plan, nurses learned how to deliver the smallpox vaccine, but for the moment, they are practicing with water.

"It's not a needle and syringe like the typical vaccines we have these days," said Gibbie Harris of the Wake County Department of Health and Human Services.

The smallpox vaccine contains a live virus, but according to Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease expert at the

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

, it is not smallpox, it is a distant cousin.

"It's the vacinia virus, which is cowpox," said Weber.

During the vaccination process, nurses dip a two-pronged needle in the vaccine and deliver 15 jabs to the skin. A scab forms and then falls off after about 19 days.

"That means you've had a take of the vaccine and after about two to three weeks you'll develop protective immunity from smallpox," said Weber.

Vaccinations for military personnel began on Dec. 13 at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington D.C.

Health care workers and other first-responders will get the vaccination next.

Rex Hospital

is currently working with doctors and nurses who volunteered to receive the vaccine.

"We're probably looking at somewhere around 200 people," said Linda Calderone, coordinator of infection control at Rex Hospital.

Doctors said people are contagious during the 19-day period, but they have continued to treat patients.

"Anyone that has the vaccine will have that site covered with a gauze pad and then a transparent pad," said Calderone.

Hauser will be one of the first people in Wake County to get the vaccine. She said she knows the risks, but is ready to get it.

"I really don't have any reservation at all," said Hauser.

Vaccinations for the public will not be available until 2004, according to doctors.

Because of the vaccine risks, health departments said they are working on education campaigns to help the public make an informed decision.

Doctors warn that if there is a case of smallpox, vaccinations could become mandatory, because the risk of getting smallpox is greater than the vaccine risk.

For people who were vaccinated years ago, they are no longer protected and would need to get the smallpox vaccine again.