Today federal health officials will issue guidelines on implementing a smallpox vaccine in case of an outbreak of the disease in North America. The vaccine would be used to inoculate the entire U.S. population within five days of the outbreak of the disease.
The manual being sent to health commissioners in the 50 states and the District of Columbia offers advice on how to operate mass vaccination clinics -- from logistical issues such as parking to the medical challenge of treating severe side effects. It offers suggestions on utilizing the National Guard, recruiting translators, building intricate data systems and contending with extreme weather conditions.
For now, the Bush administration does not anticipate inoculating the nation's 288 million residents -- partly because the threat of an attack is unknown and partly because the vaccine can cause severe, sometimes fatal, side effects. The vaccination plan would be activated only if an outbreak of the deadly disease occurred, an event administration officials characterize as unlikely but not impossible.
"This is a very detailed, thoughtful recipe for response" to a bioterror incident, said Michael Osterholm, a public health expert at the University of Minnesota who is advising the federal government. Using the template, states and cities should be able to devise plans "for vaccinating the largest amount of people in the shortest time possible," he said.