The vaccination of Colorado public health and hospital teams against smallpox began in Denver at 10 a.m. on Friday, January 31.
Douglas H. Benevento, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, was the first member of the state's 26-member public health team to be vaccinated. The vaccination session was held at the department's Laboratory and Radiation Services Division building at 8100 Lowry Blvd.
Others vaccinated included:
Dr. Ned Calonge, chief medical officer and state epidemiologist, Department of Public Health and Environment.
Dr. Gayle Miller, senior epidemiologist, bioterrorism program, Department of Public Health and Environment.
Dr. Bill Letson, medical consultant, Prevention and Intervention Services for
Children and Youth Division, Department of Public Health and Environment.
Benevento explained that he chose to be vaccinated both as the state health department's executive director and as the chairman of the Governor's Emergency Epidemic Response Committee. The department and the committee, he said, have been given responsibility for preparing to handle any bioterrorism incident that might affect Colorado.
"I chose to be vaccinated because I believe it is important that each state follow the directive of President George Bush and of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that we be prepared to handle the introduction of smallpox into the United States by terrorists in the unlikely event that should occur," Benevento said.
"I believe that through the vaccination of public health and hospital teams, Colorado will be well prepared to respond well to any such incident."
However, Benevento emphasized that it is not being recommended that members of the public be vaccinated against smallpox at this time.
He explained, however, that if any member of the public has concerns and questions about smallpox or the smallpox vaccination efforts, that individual can call a statewide, toll-free hotline at 1-877-462-2911 to obtain information. The hotline is in operation from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.
The hotline is being sponsored by the Department of Public Health and Environment's bioterrorism program and is being operated by the Denver-based Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Control Program.
Explaining why the general public is not being vaccinated now, Calonge said, "We are vaccinating only the vaccinators because we have no indication at this time that there is any imminent threat of smallpox in this country. Also, the vaccinia vaccine that is being used carries some risk for the recipients.
"However, if a case of smallpox is found in the United States, vaccination within three days of exposure will prevent or reduce the severity of the disease in most people. Vaccination four to seven days after exposure will offer some protection from the disease. These hospital and public health teams would be available at such a time to provide vaccinations, to care for anyone who becomes ill and to track and control the spread of the disease."
About 1,150 Colorado public health and hospital workers are expected to be vaccinated against smallpox, Calonge said.
In addition to the 26-member state public health team, this includes about 210 staff members from local health departments and county public health nursing services and about 900 hospital staff members from across Colorado.
Calonge cautioned, however, that the numbers of persons to be vaccinated in Colorado, particularly among hospital workers, may change significantly.
He explained that the number may decline if screening, which currently is underway, identifies personal or family medical reasons why the volunteers should not receive the vaccine.
Calonge also noted that some Colorado hospital administrators continue to have concerns about liability issues relating to the administering of the vaccinia vaccine and the possibility that it might be transmitted to other people, including hospital patients, in the approximate three weeks before the scab on the vaccination site falls off.
The vaccinations for hospital and public health team members will be provided at four regional locations, beginning in February and continuing for about 60 days.
Beginning on Tuesday, February 4, Denver Health will begin providing vaccinations to volunteers from throughout the Denver metropolitan area while the Mesa County Health Department will begin vaccinating public health and hospital team volunteers from throughout the Western Slope.
Other regional locations, which will provide vaccinations later in February, include the Weld County Health Department in Greeley and the El Paso County Health Department in Colorado Springs, working in cooperation with the Pueblo City-County Health Department.
The vaccinations will be provided from 1,800 doses of vaccinia vaccine that was shipped to Colorado earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The Department of Public Health and Environment is distributing the vaccine to the regional vaccination locations.