Los Angeles County received its requested 9,200 doses of smallpox vaccine Wednesday, and officials said they plan to start vaccinating public health workers as early as next week.
But California has not yet asked the federal government to send out the 40,000 doses needed for areas outside Los Angeles.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday that it had sent enough doses and needles to vaccinate 21,600 public-health and health-care workers in Connecticut, Nebraska, Vermont and Los Angeles County.
This was the first shipment of vaccine under President Bush's three-phase plan to protect the public from an intentional release of the smallpox virus as an act of terrorism.
"We're close to being ready, and we expect to be ready within a week to 10 days," said Dr. Jonathan Fielding, public health director at the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services. "We've done all the groundwork."
The first people vaccinated locally will be up to 900 public-health workers, who will then vaccinate up to 8,300 emergency workers at local hospitals in coming weeks and be ready to probe suspected smallpox cases.
Before the process begins, Fielding said, his agency is awaiting firm word that the federal government will assume liability if complications arise.
The vaccinations will be voluntary, and people with certain health conditions -- such as HIV and eczema -- will be discouraged from receiving it.
California health officials said they do not know when they will request shipment of their doses because they are still planning the vaccine's distribution.
"Our effort will involve vaccinating many more workers over a much larger geographic area," said Ken August, spokesman for the California Department of Health Services. "We're working to prepare
Two weeks ago, August said, the state health department conducted regional meetings to demonstrate how to administer the vaccine.
The CDC has rejected requests from some labor unions and medical experts to delay the vaccinations until it makes provisions to compensate people injured by the vaccine or through inadvertent exposure.
Last week, a committee of the national Institute of Medicine urged the CDC to move more slowly in implementing the plan because of its "serious risks."
But the CDC's director, Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, defended the plan. "We all agree that we want to do this as safely as we can, and we all agree that we want to do it as expeditiously as we can," she said last week.
Smallpox, which is highly contagious, was eradicated worldwide in the 1970s, but officials fear that vials of the virus stored in the former Soviet Union may have been obtained by terrorists or rogue nations.
The first phase of the national program calls for the vaccination of nearly 500,000 front-line health-care workers who would be among the first to treat patients infected with smallpox. A second phase, expected this year, would vaccinate up to 7 million health-care workers and 3 million police, fire and emergency personnel. The general public would be allowed to volunteer for vaccinations at a later date, in the third phase.