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3/22/2003

Pharmacists Assist in Vaccinating Senator, Surgeon General

Donna Young

Frist and NelsonSeveral pharmacists participated in public events last week held at the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C., where two high-level officials—Surgeon General Richard Carmona and Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist—were vaccinated against smallpox.

Rear Adm. John T. Babb, a pharmacist and head of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps Readiness Force (CCRF), was on hand at both events and was himself vaccinated on March 11—the same day Carmona was vaccinated.

It’s time for health care workers to "roll up their sleeves" to protect themselves so that they will be ready to participate when it is time to protect the public health of the nation, Babb said.

Capt. Stephen W. Wickizer, a U.S. Public Health Service pharmacist assigned to the National Cancer Institute, was the only pharmacist among four vaccinators—the other three were nurses—who administered the smallpox vaccine to 31 public health workers that day.

Wickizer, who was inoculated on Feb. 28, administered the vaccine to seven public health workers at the March 11 event.

He did not administer the vaccine to Carmona but assisted in applying a protective bandage to the surgeon general’s arm.

Wickizer, who previously served with the Indian Health Service where he vaccinated patients as part of his practice, encouraged other public health pharmacists to receive training as frontline responders to help administer the smallpox vaccine.

Some states allow nonfederally employed pharmacists, on completion of a training program, to administer vaccines to adults.

The military also has a smallpox vaccination training program for pharmacists, noted Lt. Col. John D. Grabenstein, a pharmacist and the Army Surgeon General’s deputy director for military vaccines.

Pharmacists can be involved in a variety of roles in smallpox vaccination, including product logistics, education, and vaccination, he said.

Pharmacists Mark Gonitzke, a commissioned officer with PHS’s Office of Emergency Response and a paramedic, and Debra Yeskey, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an emergency medical technician, were asked to stand by with emergency equipment, including a defibrillator and trauma kit, in the event Carmona had an adverse reaction to the vaccine.

Yeskey was the pharmacist responsible for reconstituting the vaccine, Babb said.

Frist and BabbGonitzke, in addition to several other CCRF pharmacists, including Rear Adm. Arthur J. Lawrence Jr., a deputy assistant secretary for health, and FDA pharmacists Cmdr. Lloyd Johnson and Lt. Sean Belouin, were also vaccinated at the March 11 event.

Three days later, Sen. Frist (R-Tenn.) was vaccinated at a special media event.

Babb, a fellow Tennessean, volunteered his shoulder to let Frist practice administering the vaccine.

Since Babb had been vaccinated in his left shoulder three days earlier, Frist pricked his volunteer patient 15 times in the right shoulder using a bifurcated needle dipped in saline solution instead of vaccine.