The St. Louis metropolitan area is one of two areas in the country selected to conduct a First Responder Vaccine Initiative pilot project with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
This initiative focuses on protecting first responders during an anthrax event. Personnel from law enforcement, fire and rescue, Hazmat, emergency rooms, public health and safety, and disaster preparedness and response are at an increased risk of exposure to this biological agent as response efforts kick off. The project has been developed to reduce these risks and strengthen responder preparedness and protection by providing them with pre-event voluntary anthrax vaccinations.
“Anthrax is one of the most likely biological agents to be use by terrorist because anthrax spores can easily be found in nature, can be produced in a lab, and can last in the environment for a long time,” said City of St. Louis Health Director Dr. Fredrick Echols.
“It’s a good weapon because it only takes a small amount to infect a large number of people and it can be released without anyone knowing since the spores are microscopic and cannot be seen, smelled, or tasted.”
The St. Louis pilot – Project PREPARE (Program to Ready Emergency Personnel for an Anthrax Event) – will be co-managed by the St. Louis city and county health departments and Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Echols and Dr. Stacey House, director of Emergency Care Research Core at Washington University School of Medicine, Department of Emergency Medicine will spearhead management efforts.
“So far, 65 fire departments, law enforcement agencies, emergency medical services, and emergency departments in St. Louis City and County have agreed to participate in Project PREPARE’s anthrax education and vaccination program,” said Dr. House.
The vaccine for the pilot will come from the nation’s Strategic National Stockpile a national repository of antibiotics, vaccines, chemical antidotes, antitoxins, and other critical medical supplies stored for national emergencies.