County weighs smallpox shot cost

By Nathan Whalen

Staff reporter

The president of the United States may be feeling fine, but Island County officials are concerned.

As the county prepares to participate in the first phase of a program to prepare for a bioterrorism attack with the smallpox virus, officials are concerned about administering such a program and who would volunteer for the vaccination.

One question officials have is how to deal with employees who could suffer side effects from the smallpox vaccine and have to miss work.

“We need to decide who’s going to assume the risk with the vaccine — the county or the employee,” said Health Services Director Tim McDonald.

People who have a negative reaction to the vaccine could lose time at work or be hospitalized, McDonald said Wednesday at a Board of Health meeting.

Another concern is whether workers compensation would cover employees who participate in a voluntary program, he said.

Robert Nelson of the State Department of Labor and Industries said employees would be covered whether the vaccination was voluntary or mandatory.

McDonald said the decision to get vaccinated will be left up to each eligible employee.

Symptoms from the smallpox vaccine include fever, rash, headaches and body aches. Approximately 1,000 per million people who receive the vaccination need medical attention. Fifteen per million could become seriously ill and one or two people per million could die as a result of reactions to the shot.

McDonald said the first batch of the vaccine should be available by the end of the month but that could be pushed back as health officials continue to sort out the details of administering the program.

The first stage of vaccinations will be available to identified employees who could come into direct contact with smallpox victims. These employees have to volunteer to receive the vaccination.

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