Though 66 percent of disaster planners support preevent anthrax vaccination for first responders and point-of-dispensing (POD) workers, only half were aware the CDC changed its recommendation in 2010 to allow emergency workers to receive the vaccine, Saint Louis University researchers found.
“Without more widespread awareness of the preevent vaccine opportunity, it is unlikely that many first responders will be given the option of being vaccinated,” observes first author Dr. Terri Rebmann, associate professor in the College for Public Health and Social Justice at Saint Louis University.
The paper, “US Disaster Planners’ Attitudes Regarding Preevent Vaccine for First Responders and Point-of-Dispensing Workers,” is the first of its kind and was published in the February issue of Health Security.
Preevent vaccination is a vital part of community preparedness. “It creates a protected workforce who can safely respond to incidents [and] raises awareness about the possibility of an attack.”
The study is based on a 2013 survey of 301 disaster planners from Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI) jurisdictions and non-CRI jurisdictions across the United States. It found that 20 percent of the planners had already received the preevent smallpox vaccine, but only 3.2 percent had received the anthrax vaccine.
When comparing attitudes toward smallpox and anthrax preevent vaccinations, about half of the planners believed POD workers should be offered the vaccines preevent in both cases. Approximately the same percentage believed that POD workers should receive preevent anthrax (55 percent) or smallpox (53.4 percent) vaccine.
Disaster planners who had the most work experience were less like to support offering POD staff preevent vaccines; but an even more interesting finding is that there was no relationship between years of work experience and support for preevent anthrax vaccines to first responders. Future studies should examine these differing attitudes, the research team suggests.
“Jurisdictions should consider partnering with first responder agencies to implement a preevent anthrax vaccination program, making sure that it is administered through a comprehensive occupational health program and includes education on the risks and benefits of vaccination,” Dr. Rebmann concludes.
Dr. Rebmann, who also serves as the Director of SLU’s Institute for Biosecurity, co-authored the paper with SLU colleagues: Dr. Travis M. Loux, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biostatistics, Dr. Thomas K. Zink, MD, associate professor of environmental and occupational aealth, and graduate student Ms. Mary Wakefield. Mr. Zachary Swick, domestic preparedness planner, Oregon Military Department, Oregon Office of Emergency Management, also collaborated.