Smallpox vaccine program continues

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Compliance with President Bush's mandate that health officials in every state be vaccinated for the smallpox virus in cast of a possible bioterrorism attack have continued to progress well, with the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) also reporting good numbers in the state.

According to a recent press release from the ADPH, a total of 234 persons in Alabama received smallpox vaccinations between Feb. 18 and 27 at health department clinic sites and hospitals.

Persons vaccinated included 113 public health employees and 121 health care workers.

The ADPH received 10,000 doses of smallpox vaccine on Feb. 11 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In all states, smallpox vaccination is voluntary. Each state notifies the CDC when it is ready to receive its shipment of smallpox vaccine to begin pre-event vaccination of public health and health care workers.

Local area public health personnel are working with hospitals that wish to have voluntary vaccination of appropriate health care providers who would serve on the hospital response team.

Local sites will be determined based on the response from the hospital community and the first phase of the smallpox vaccination for health department and hospital personnel was expected to last approximately 45 days.

The state's smallpox preparedness plans include the creation of vaccinated teams across the state.

Each of the 11 public health areas of the state is expected to have one smallpox public health response team and one or more hospital-based smallpox health care response team.

Should there be an actual case or cases of smallpox identified, these teams will be mobilized to vaccinate and follow up with persons exposed, and to care for those with smallpox.

Recently several employees from Andalusia Regional Hospital were given the vaccine as part of the first phase, with about eight employees of the ADPH at the hospital to give vaccines and to also provide information about vaccinations and the disease itself.

Terry Kyzer of the Covington County Health Department said that no one from the health department has received the vaccination as of yet, noting that the vaccination to staff employees will be covered under the second phase of the ADPH vaccination plan.

Chad Kent, who is an ADPH bioterrorism coordinator for an area which includes Covington County, said the vaccinations have gone well for the county and for other areas of the state.

"Right now we are waiting for results of the first phase of the vaccinations, and then the second phase, to include health workers, and people such as fire and police officers will begin in about 30 to 60 days," said Kent. "We have had a pretty good turnout for the first phase and we vaccinated about 13 hospital employees total in Covington County, both with Andalusia Regional Hospital and Mizell Memorial Hospital (in Opp). We have had no reports of real problems with the vaccines and we continuously monitor those given the vaccines, especially with nurses."

Following the terrorist-related attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government took actions to improve its level of preparedness against terrorism.

For smallpox this included updating a response plan and ordering enough smallpox vaccine available to immunize everyone who might need it in the event of an emergency.

In December of 2002, the Bush Administration announced a plan to better protect the American people against the threat of smallpox attack by hostile groups or governments.

This plan included the creation of smallpox health care teams that would respond to a smallpox emergency.

Members of these teams are currently being vaccinated against the disease, and the plan also includes vaccination of certain military and civilian personnel who are or may be deployed in high threat areas.

This is important to note with more troops being deployed on a daily basis due to the continued threat of a war in the near future in Iraq.