Local man in small pox vaccination study

By Abby Morris

An Elizabethton native is participating in a study of the small pox vaccination being conducted at Vanderbilt University.
   The study is an important one, according to Greg Tester, a 1995 graduate of Elizabethton High School.
   "Reports have shown that small pox is a threat with terrorists and with Iraq having probably access to the small pox virus. It's a serious threat," he said.
   Tester, currently the Outdoor Recreation Coordinator at Vanderbilt, said that becoming immune to the small pox virus was one motivation for his participation in the study. "Plus, you get close to $400 for participating in the study," he said.
   The study began on Oct. 9 and Tester was one of the first to be vaccinated.
   "I have what they call a take," he said. "If you get a take then you are probably immune to small pox."
   According to John Howser, Media Director for Vanderbilt University Medical Center, the study was being conducted to see if the small pox vaccine would work in diluted doses.
   Some of the 150 participants in the study received a full dose of the vaccine, others received a vaccine that had been diluted in a ratio of 1:5, and others received a vaccine that had been diluted in a ratio of 1:10.
   "It was a blind study, so you didn't know what dose you were getting," Tester said.
   According to Howser, the study seems to have proven successful. "Every person in this study has produced a 'take,' or a positive reaction," he said.
   But the study did not stop once the participants were vaccinated. Those who were vaccinated had to return for at least eight follow-up appointments, according to Howser.
   Tester said that, after he was vaccinated, a bandage was placed on his arm. "They bandaged it, and I had to go once or usually twice a week and get the bandage changed," he said. "They gave you bandage kits in case you had to do it yourself, but they preferred that they do it."
   "They would take swabs of the bandage, the test site and the index finger of the opposite hand to see if any of the virus was found there," Tester said.
   According to Howser, right-handed individuals receive the vaccine in their left arm. Researchers take swab exams of the index finger on the hand opposite where the vaccine is given because that is the hand the person is most likely to scratch the test site with.
   Tests on the finger, bandage and test site were done to see if the virus can be spread that way, which was the second focus of the study, according to Howser. One concern about vaccinating people against the small pox virus is that they will transmit the vaccinia virus, which is the virus used to make the vaccine, to those they come in contact with.
   Participants in the study ranged in age from 18-30 and were all prescreened before being allowed to participate, according to Howser.
   The prescreening was done because, while it is very rare, some people do have a bad reaction to the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that 1,000 out of every one million people who receive the vaccine will experience serious but not life-threatening reactions to the virus.
   Less than 60 out of one million will suffer serious life-threatening reactions. It is also estimated that one or two people out of one million who are vaccinated will die as a result of the vaccine.
   Some people are more likely than others to suffer from the vaccine. Because of the increased possibility of reaction, those people were not allowed to participate in the study.
   Those who have immune system problems due to HIV or treatments from cancer as well as those who have skin disorders such as eczema or atopic dermatitis, were excluded from participation. Also, women who were pregnant or who plan to become pregnant within six months of being vaccinated were excluded.