None of the 150 Southwestern Vermont Health Care employees eligible for the smallpox vaccine have been immunized so far, as the state puts the entire vaccination program on hold over concerns about its effect on those with heart conditions.
Earlier this week, the Vermont Department of Health announced that all smallpox vaccinations were on hold until further research can be conducted about the connection between the vaccine and fatal heart problems.
Before the plan was put on hiatus for an indefinite period of time, SVHC had scheduled a final informational meeting for this week and had planned to begin the first round of immunizations soon afterwards.
“All that’s on hold right now,” said Kevin Robinson, a hospital spokesman. “We are really taking our cues from the health department.”
Vermont is among about a dozen states that have suspended their programs while the matter is investigated.
Among those who are eligible for the vaccine at SVHC are “front-line caregivers,” including those in the emergency department and associated nursing units that were given the vaccine before it ended in 1972.
Smallpox is a highly infectious, potentially fatal viral disease whose symptoms include lower backaches, vomiting, chills and fever with skin eruptions that often leave permanent scars on the body.
President Bush in December announced a vaccination program for 500,000 health care workers to protect the country against a bioterrorism attack.
Many health care workers have declined to be vaccinated against smallpox, given the rare but serious side effects of the vaccine and the virtual lack of compensation.
To date, 38 people have received the vaccine in Vermont and none have reported any serious reactions, health officials said. During the past week, 20 to 25 more people were scheduled to be immunized.
The U.S. Senate on Thursday approved an $80 billion supplemental budget to cover the initial costs of the war with Iraq including an amendment that allots $100 million for smallpox immunization programs nationwide.
On Friday, the U.S. military decided to bar people with strong risks of heart disease from being inoculated against smallpox after three deaths from heart attacks were possibly linked to the vaccine.
Following guidelines set by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the military will defer vaccinations for people with three or more risk factors for heart disease. Those factors include smoking or using tobacco, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar or a heart condition in a close relative before age 50.