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Homeland Security

Smallpox vaccine program extends to 'emergency essential' civilians

by Master Sgt. Scott Elliott
Air Force Print News

03/25/03 - WASHINGTON -- Civilian employees deployed to fill emergency-essential positions at selected overseas locations are now required to receive the smallpox vaccine, Pentagon officials said.

According to Col. Rainer Stachowitz, deputy director of the nuclear and counter proliferation directorate at the Pentagon, theater commanders will determine which civilian positions fall into the emergency-essential category.

"There are a lot of people in theater now who are not, or at least a week or two ago were not, coded as emergency essential," Stachowitz said. "If a commander says 'I really need this person here,' they have the authority to make the change."

"In today's military environment, civilian employees are a critical component of our force structure. We absolutely have to have them to accomplish our missions," Stachowitz said.

"If we want them to support us, we need to provide them the same level of protection we're providing to our military folks. Therefore, they're included in the vaccination program," he said.

Although a commander may determine if a civilian position is emergency essential, it is up to the individual employee whether or not to accept the role -- and the accompanying vaccinations.

"These people have to be given the option of accepting the assignment as an emergency-essential civilian," Stachowitz said. "If they accept it, they have to take the anthrax shots and the smallpox vaccination. If they decide they don't want to do it, they have to be moved out at the first opportunity."

In the future, civilian employees deploying to fill emergency-essential positions will be vaccinated before departure.

The role of civilian employees in America's military force structure has grown substantially since 1991's Operation Desert Storm, Stachowitz said.

"There's a tremendous amount of work that used to be done by military personnel that is now done by civilian employees and contractors," he said. "They're critical to the overall combat capability of the U.S. military."

Contractors providing mission-essential services at certain overseas locations are also required to receive the smallpox vaccine.

According to Lt. Col. Kelly Woodward, chief of preventive medicine at the Air Force Medical Operations Agency, the logistics involved in vaccinating emergency-essential civilians is not complicated.

"We follow the same procedure for pre-screening and educating, and then vaccinating and caring for individuals regardless of whether they're civilian or military," he said.

"We have very high standards for screening people to make sure we vaccinate only people for whom it's appropriate to vaccinate."

Woodward said patient education is key to the vaccination program's success.

"We give very explicit instructions on what kind of care one should take after vaccination, as well as what kinds of things to expect after vaccination," he said. "We have methods in place to ensure that everyone can get the care they need if they have questions about the vaccine or about possible side effects."

According to Stachowitz, there have been only 10 cases of serious adverse reaction -- none severe -- since the smallpox vaccination program began in January.

"There have been no long-term issues with any of these vaccinations," he said. "None of the adverse reactions lasted longer than a couple of days, and every one of these folks is now 100 percent -- no long-lasting side effects."

Local civilian personnel offices have more information.

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