Originally created 02/20/03

Georgia's first wave of smallpox shots sees few side effects of drug



ATLANTA -- Few of the state's 72 health workers vaccinated since Jan. 30 against smallpox had side effects, state health officials said Wednesday.

Some vaccinated workers missed work because of the shot and others reported pain in the arm or lymph nodes, "very common" side effects of the vaccine, said Richard Quartarone, spokesoman for the Georgia Division of Public Health.

"We're very pleased," Quartarone said. "We really haven't seen any severe adverse reactions to the vaccine."

The shot did not work for three people, two of whom were re-vaccinated, and men with hair on their arms complained of pain from bandages that covered the shot, which are "made to stick," Quartarone said.

The vaccinations are part of the first phase of the state's voluntary vaccination plan for health care providers and public health teams - those who would most likely treat patients in a smallpox attack.

The vaccine is made from a live virus that, in rare cases, can cause adverse reactions or spread to unvaccinated people. Experts say as many as 40 people out of every million vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening reactions and one or two will die.

Now Georgia is preparing to vaccinate health workers from trauma centers across the state. Officials are reviewing the first wave of shots to see what worked.

Screening and education programs for health care workers were successful, but the division will have to convert the metro Atlanta shot program for a larger area, Quartarone said.

Smallpox is a highly contagious virus that is spread from person to person, historically killing 30 percent of its victims. It was eradicated from the world three decades ago, but strains are suspected to exist in weaponized form.

Although federal officials have said there is no indication of a risk of a smallpox attack, the government in November asked states to prepare vaccination plans for health workers in case of a smallpox attack.

Federal officials had hoped states would vaccinate close to 500,000 health care workers in about 30 days, beginning in late January. As of Feb. 11 - the latest data available - 1,043 people in 19 states had been inoculated.

The first round of shots went to state health officials and members of metro Atlanta's seven trauma centers. But health workers from only three of the trauma centers volunteered to be vaccinated becuase of liability concerns and the potential to accidentally infect with the vaccine patients with weak immune systems.

Ten health workers from Emory University also received smallpox shots and 10 more will be vaccinated, university officials said Tuesday.

Eventually, the vaccine will be offered to non-trauma hospitals across the state. Future phases of the state's plan involve offering the vaccine to first responders such as fire, police and emergency medical services members and any volunteers from the general public.

If a smallpox case appeared in Georgia, the vaccine would be offered to those exposed to the virus. People can prevent infection if they are vaccinated within four days of exposure, before symptoms even appear. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949. Routine vaccinations ended in 1972.

On the Net:

Smallpox information: www.smallpox.gov

Georgia Division of Public Health: www.health.state.ga.us