In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2003
DocumentSession 2003
DocumentBudget and Taxes
DocumentHigher Education
DocumentK-12 Education
DocumentHealth and Welfare
DocumentPublic Safety
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
State, counties scraping to find money for smallpox vaccinations
The Minnesota Health Department says it will start vaccinating health care workers for smallpox in mid-February. Health officials say 2,700 people have volunteered to receive the vaccine. The federal government is recommending the vaccine for front-line health care workers in case of a bioterrorist attack. The state says it's prepared to move forward with phase one of the program but caution they may have to take money from other programs to complete the task.

St. Paul, Minn. — State epidemiologist Harry Hull says the state is ordering 4,500 doses of the smallpox vaccine. That's down from the department's December estimates calling for 5 to 10,000 doses of the vaccine.

Hull says several hospitals and many health care workers say the vaccine's side effects aren't worth the risk, especially since smallpox was eradicated in 1978. Hull says 2,700 workers will be enough to respond if a smallpox outbreak occurs.

"Our concern is that we have a core group of people who can care for somebody who has smallpox, who can start the vaccination programs and can do the case investigation programs at the beginning of an outbreak," Hull says.

The federal government moved forward with plans to vaccinate first-line responders because officials fear a terrorist could release the bacteria. The feds gave the state $16 million last spring to prepare for a bioterrorist attack. Hull and others say the CDC says states should now use the grant money to administer the vaccinations.

That presents a problem for the state and a number of county agencies. The state says it used the money to build additional lab space and hire more workers.

Olmstead County Health Director Mary Wellik says her county already spent its grant money on bioterrorism planning. She says they'll need more federal or state money to vaccinate workers.

"What we're finding now is that this money and the planning we've done is certainly helping us be prepared to deliver smallpox clinics but there is not the money to actually pay for the staff and the implementation of these clinics," Wellik says.

Wellik says Olmstead County will need to reallocate county money for the program if the state and federal government doesn't kick in additional funds. Dr. Hull says the state will also need to divert resources to make sure the first phase goes through. He says, if necessary, they'll take it from other programs.

"There's a lot of concern on how we fund these programs and continue to do what we need to do. We have programs that we're taking staff away to conduct these clinics and they won't be fulfilling their duties. How do we make sure that all of the nursing homes get inspected?" Wellik says.

Robert Einweck is the director of the Health Deparment's Office of Emergency Preparedness. He says the state will have a better idea of how much the first round of vaccinations will cost in a few weeks. Einweck says they're working with county agencies and hospitals to complete the task. He says the Health Department won't ask the state or federal government for more money.

"We're asking hospitals to do a lot of work on this. We're not giving any money to hospitals. So in the interest of good public health and addressing the very serious concern, we're real pleased everybody is stepping up to the plate, but at the same time they're making us wary if we go beyond this," Einweck says.

Einweck says the state will lobby the federal government for more money if it moves forward with a second round of vaccinations. Round two would include health care workers and public safety officials. The state projected in December that 200,000 people would be eligible for vaccinations in the second round.

The Health Department expects delivery of the first round of the vaccine after Feb. 5. They say it will be stored at an undisclosed, secure location.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects