Local health care workers, response teams set to receive smallpox vaccinations in February

By Abby Morris
Star Staff
amorris@starhq.com

   Local health care workers who have decided to be vaccinated against the smallpox virus as part of the state's pre-event vaccination plan will begin receiving their shots in the middle of February.
   "The vaccines will begin on February 10 and continue for about 30 days," said Diane Denton, public information officer for the Tennessee Department of Health. She added that approximately 5,900 people will be vaccinated across the state at seven different sites.
   One of those sites is in Johnson City, at the Northeast Regional Public Health Office, said Beth Rader, public information officer for the office. "We will have the clinic for the seven county Northeast Tennessee area (Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Unicoi and Washington Counties) and Cocke County."
   The vaccination is being made available to health care workers "who would be involved in caring for and treating smallpox patients," Denton said.
   According to Rader, vaccination of health care workers is being done on a voluntary basis. "It's just selective hospital staff and selective public health officials."
   Another group of people who receive the smallpox vaccine during the initial round of vaccinations will be "members of Public Health Response Teams who will be involved in investigating and containing a smallpox case if one were to break out," Denton said.
   These response teams are part of the state's response plan that it developed as an answer to a directive given by the Centers for Disease Control in November of 2002.
   "Under the plan, the Department of Health and Human services will work with state and local governments to form volunteer smallpox response teams who can provide critical services to their fellow Americans in the event of a smallpox attack," according to the CDC website.
   "Pre-attack vaccination of smallpox response teams will allow them, in the event of a smallpox attack, to immediately administer the vaccine to others and care for victims."
   The CDC strongly stresses that there is no reason to believe that there is an imminent threat of a smallpox attack but that there is a "heightened concern" about the possibility that terrorists may have access to the virus.
   Currently, the only plans being put into action to vaccinate against the smallpox virus are the ones that are being termed as "pre-event," where health care workers and response teams are being vaccinated.
   Plans are still under development that would allow for the mass vaccination of the American public in the event that a case of smallpox was positively identified. Those plans are being called "post-event plans." The states were asked to submit their post-event vaccination plans to the CDC on Dec. 1, 2002.
   "We actually haven't heard anything back on our post-event plan, but our pre-event plan has been approved," Denton said.
   According to Dr. Wendy Long, assistant commissioner of the TDH, the plan developed by the state to handle such an event would allow for all of the residents of Tennessee to receive the smallpox vaccine within 10 days. The plan calls for 117 mass vaccination clinics to be created across the state.
   The clinics would operate in two shifts a day and be able to vaccinate 5,000 people a day. The clinics would be run by trained health care professionals and community volunteers. It is estimated that 25,000 people would be needed to operate these clinics.