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Wanted: 100 to receive vaccine

The health department has asked the Washington County Hospital to find 100 hospital employees willing to volunteer to be inocula

The health department has asked the Washington County Hospital to find 100 hospital employees willing to volunteer to be inocula

December 12, 2002|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Washington County Health Department has asked the Washington County Hospital to find 100 hospital employees willing to volunteer to be inoculated with the smallpox vaccine.

The health department wants to inoculate health care workers in order to be prepared should a smallpox outbreak affect the region.

Hospital officials have some concerns about the request, including liability issues and side effects, a hospital spokesman said.

A fairly high percentage of those who receive the vaccine may experience "flu-like symptoms" for from three to five days, Barry Nickelsberg, executive director of development, community relations and marketing for the Washington County Health System, the hospital's parent company, said Wednesday.

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Based on studies from the 1960s, experts estimate that one or two out of every 1 million people who get the vaccine for the first time will die, and about 15 will face life-threatening injuries.

"We are not comfortable even asking for volunteers until we are more certain that our employees will be safe," he said. "It is our intent to keep them well and not to make them sick."

A task force chaired by Dr. Robert Brooks, vice president of medical affairs for the hospital, and Dr. John Newby, chief pathologist and medical director for Hagerstown Medical Laboratory, is trying to determine the best way to ensure the health and safety of hospital staff, Nickelsberg said.

No employees would be inoculated before late January, Health Officer William Christoffel said Wednesday.

Spokeswomen from Chambersburg and Waynesboro hospitals in Franklin County, Pa., and City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va., said those hospitals had not received similar requests to have their employees inoculated.

Christoffel said some Health Department employees already have volunteered to be inoculated.

The Health Department request is part of a contingency plan it is developing in case of a smallpox outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has asked counties and states across the country to develop such a plan.

Work on the plan, which is to be used to prepare for any form of biological terrorism, began earlier this year in response to anthrax threats, Christoffel said.

The plan is a precautionary move and there is no expectation that the area will suffer a smallpox outbreak, he said.

Under the Washington County plan, about 200 Health Department and Washington County Hospital employees would be given the vaccine to protect them against smallpox, Christoffel said.

He said it makes sense to have some workers inoculated, just in case.

"We need to have a group of people who are willing to treat the initial cases," he said.

In the event of an outbreak, those workers previously inoculated would help care for those who contract the disease, investigate the cases and inoculate other health professionals, he said.

The incubation period for smallpox is about 12 days following exposure, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Initial symptoms include high fever, fatigue, and head and back aches. A characteristic rash, most prominent on the face, arms and legs, follows in two to three days.

About 30 percent of those infected with smallpox would die.

The highly contagious disease has not been reported in this country for decades and routine vaccinations ended in 1971.

The disease was declared eradicated in 1980, but experts now fear it could be intentionally released by terrorists or a hostile nation.

The smallpox vaccine offers protection against the disease even if administered after exposure, provided the shot is administered within a few days.

The Bush administration is preparing to announce its plan for resuming smallpox vaccinations, part of the effort to prepare for a possible bioterror attack.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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