NASCAR fans might seem rabid, but are they actually contagious?
Getting a hepatitis shot is standard procedure for travelers to parts of Africa and Asia, but some congressional aides were instructed to get immunized before going to Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord and the racetrack in Talladega, Ala.
The House Homeland Security Committee planned a fact-finding trip about public health preparedness at mass gatherings and decided to conduct the research at two of the nation's most heavily attended sporting events, NASCAR's Bank of America 500 event this weekend and the UAW-Ford 500 last weekend.
Staff who organized the trips advised the NASCAR-bound aides to get a range of vaccines before attending -- hepatitis A, hepatitis B, tetanus, diphtheria and influenza.
Rep. Robin Hayes, a Republican from Concord, took umbrage when he heard about it.
"I have never heard of immunizations for domestic travel, and as the representative for Concord, N.C., I feel compelled to ask why the heck the committee feels that immunizations are needed to travel to my hometown," Hayes said in an Oct. 5 letter to Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who chairs the Homeland Security panel.
"I have been to numerous NASCAR races, and the folks who attend these events certainly do not pose any health hazard to congressional staffers or anyone else," Hayes added.
Lauri Wilks, vice president of communications for Speedway Motorsports, which owns Lowe's Motor Speedway and other tracks, said Wednesday that immunizations aren't needed for the race.
"There's no health risk that we know of," she said, laughing. "We have never had any disease outbreak during one of our weekends."
The four aides were asked to explore public health issues at events involving large gatherings, such as how law enforcement and medical personnel would respond to an act of terrorism or other emergency. Lawmakers weren't part of the trip.
The staffers traveled to Talladega last weekend, and are scheduled to be at Lowe's Motor Speedway this weekend.
Thompson said the immunizations are commonly recommended for people working in hospitals, holding centers and similar locations.
"Since committee staff members are visiting hospital and other health-care facilities available at or near these venues, including areas where groups of people are detained before being transferred to other off-site facilities, I believe that the recommendation (not requirement) that our congressional staff receive these same immunizations was sound," Thompson said in a letter responding to Hayes issued Wednesday.
"I am sure you would agree that providing immunizations to personnel involved in public safety is good public health policy, and there is no need to exclude staff from taking the preventative measures that the public health community recommends -- regardless of why and where mass gatherings are taking place," Thompson said in the letter.
Jim Walker, Alabama's director of homeland security, said the congressional committee aides who visited Talladega worked hard. He said they were trying to determine whether the state and federal emergency response system was adequate to handle a situation at such a large event.
"I might have been a little skeptical about this visit coming in, but these folks worked," Walker said.
He said the aides went on patrols with law enforcement, toured facilities and interviewed first responders, hazardous materials teams and other officials.
Walker said he hadn't recommended the immunizations, nor were they necessary. He suggested a possible health risk to them was the voluminous notes they took.
"I'm sure they needed to soak their wrists, they wrote so much," he said.