MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- Minnesota public health officials plan to vaccinate the state's 4.9 million people in less than a week if smallpox breaks out anywhere in the world.
In preparation, state health officials also plan to offer the smallpox shot over the next few months to about 10,000 Minnesota health care and law enforcement workers who would be part of the mobilization.
State officials are awaiting President Bush's decision to authorize this step.
The plans are described in a 175-page report on the public health response to a smallpox biological attack. The Star Tribune newspaper obtained a copy of the plan, which the state Health Department submitted to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week.
The decision to offer mass vaccinations is largely up to federal officials, who control the vaccine stocks. The federal government is preparing to deliver vaccine supplies to states within 12 hours if needed. All vaccinations would be voluntary, state officials said.
States were required to submit smallpox response plans last week as part of federal bioterrorism defense efforts that have evolved since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax attacks.
Smallpox has high priority in bioterrorism planning because the disease kills about 30 percent of its victims and routine vaccination against it ended in the United States in 1971. The last confirmed case was in 1977 in Africa.
The Minnesota plan outlines extraordinary public health measures, including some last used in the era when polio and other vaccine-vanquished diseases ran rampant.
Shopping centers, county fairground buildings or even large arenas such as the Metrodome could be turned into mass-vaccination clinics for the public. The National Guard would protect vaccine supplies and manage crowds at clinics. Health officials also could quarantine smallpox patients, as well as suspected victims or people who came in contact with them.
"This is designed as far as it can be to cover every worst-case scenario. It's going to be a little scary," said state epidemiologist Dr. Harry Hull. "You can never be prepared for everything, but on the other hand, with good preparation you can do a lot."
The response would start the moment smallpox is confirmed anywhere because "this will be a true public health emergency," Hull said.
The smallpox vaccine has serious potential side effects and is thought to cause death in one of every million people who get it. Mass vaccinations in Minnesota could result in four or five deaths.
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