IAFF Releases Smallpox Vaccination Program Guidance for Firefighters

Washington, D.C. – After careful study, the IAFF is providing guidance to IAFF affiliates and members on smallpox vaccination programs to protect firefighters, paramedics and other first responders. But the decision whether to be vaccinated is a personal decision that must be made by individual firefighters and other first responders after they have reviewed the pros and cons of smallpox vaccination contained in the report prepared by the IAFF.

“The information we are providing on smallpox vaccination strikes a balance between protecting our members from this disease and protecting their rights,” said IAFF General President Harold Schaitberger. “Our goal is to educate our members on the issue so they can make an informed and educated decision.”

The IAFF report states that employers should make smallpox vaccinations available to all firefighters and emergency medical personnel on duty at no cost. The IAFF’s document also makes it clear that adverse effects from the vaccinations are the responsibility of the employer, not the employee. It also states that firefighters have the right to decline the vaccination, but can leave open the door to receive it at a later date if he or she requests it.

Schaitberger added that the IAFF has assessed all aspects of the smallpox issue over the last 15 months, dating back to late September 2001 (following the 9/11 attacks) when he urged Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson to take action on smallpox and anthrax threats to firefighters and other first responders.

“We thoroughly reviewed the risks to individual IAFF members, as well as the steps that should be taken by employers to insure that firefighters receive medical monitoring, training, and appropriate treatment in the event of an adverse reaction to the vaccine,” Schaitberger said.

The risk of smallpox, a disease which was eradicated from the general population, was considered extremely low for decades. The threat has risen with claims that terrorists might use it as a weapon of mass destruction. IAFF locals and their fire department management must consider the specific risk to their communities before deciding whether to vaccinate their firefighters. There are medical risks associated with the vaccine, even if the program follows all government and IAFF recommendations.

“These recommendations are just a first step for our response to smallpox,” said Schaitberger. “We are in uncharted waters and cannot predict the precise effects of these vaccinations, this disease or any other threat terrorists might unleash on our people.”

Schaitberger has committed IAFF professional and medical staff to monitoring this issue and publishing updates as they become available.

Read the full text of the IAFF guidance on smallpox vaccination and other related information at http://daily.iaff.org/122002sml2.htm.

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