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Press Release

Key Staff to be Vaccinated for Small Pox

February 28, 2003

Contra Costa Health Services will begin to vaccinate key health workers and law enforcement personnel for small pox next week. The effort is being launched at the direction of the federal government.

The first volunteers designated as members of the public health response units will be vaccinated starting March 7 and continuing during March. The effort will prepare workers who would respond to a smallpox outbreak. Between 35-60 County Public Health Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials personnel, Sheriff's Office deputies and staff from some local hospitals will be among those vaccinated.

"This process must be handled very carefully to reduce the risks from the vaccine as much as possible and to insure that we have a response team to serve the public." says William Walker, MD, Director of Contra Costa Health Services. He stressed that there are no cases of smallpox in the world now and that the risk of a smallpox outbreak remains very low.

Walker says most counties have designated key volunteer staff, including physicians, nurses, lab workers and others, who will be needed to vaccinate the general population. Only those who have been vaccinated before, when small pox vaccines were administered routinely, will be included to decrease the likelihood of vaccine side affects. The vaccine is not given to people who are pregnant, have eczema, are immunize compromised or have anyone in their homes who have those conditions. The federal government has not decided when or if to release the vaccine for the general public.

"The vaccine helps the body develop immunity to smallpox. The vaccine is generally a safe and effective way to prevent smallpox," Walker says. He explains that in a small number of individuals, smallpox vaccination can result in adverse reactions, some serious. In a few rare instances, the results can be life threatening or even fatal. As many as one third of those who receive the vaccine may become ill with fever, headaches or other flu-like symptoms that lasts one to three days.

"The smallpox vaccine contains 'live' virus so we must be very careful to prevent the virus from accidentally spreading to those who are in contact with the vaccinated person," Walker says, adding that the vaccine does not contain the smallpox virus and cannot give people smallpox.

There have been no cases of smallpox in the United States since 1949 and none in the world since 1977. Smallpox was a serious, contagious and sometimes fatal infectious disease caused by a virus. There is no specific treatment for it, but it can be prevented with vaccine. After the disease was eliminated from the world, routine vaccination against small pox was stopped. However, in the aftermath of the events of September and October 2001, there is heightened concern that the virus stored in laboratories might be used as an agent of bioterrorism. If there were a case of smallpox, Walker says there would be a three-five day period during which the public could be vaccinated to prevent the disease from spreading.

More information about the vaccine and small pox is available online at or by calling the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention response line at 888-246-2675.

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Press Contact
  • Francie Wise
  • 925-313-6740