Smallpox vaccinations begin for local health care workers as part of federally ordered plan

By Abby Morris

Star Staff

   Nearly 60 public health workers from the eight-county area of Northeast Tennessee were vaccinated against the smallpox virus Thursday and Friday as part of a federally mandated plan to prepare to fight the disease if an outbreak were to occur.
   Orders handed down to the state from the federal government called for each state in the country to develop two plans of action to fight against the smallpox virus -- a pre-event plan, which would vaccinate key health care and other emergency workers, and a post-event plan, which would provide for the mass-vaccination of all citizens of Tennessee in a 10-day period.
   The vaccinations which were given on Thursday and Friday are the first step in the implementation of the pre-event plan, according to Beth Rader, public information officer for the Northeast Tennessee Regional Public Health Office. "This begins the first phase of smallpox vaccine administration to medical personnel who in the future may have to investigate or treat a possible cause of smallpox," she said. "The public health nurses and physicians who volunteered to be vaccinated received training on how to administer the vaccine safely before receiving the vaccination themselves."
   Dr. Stephen May, who operates a private practice in Elizabethton, was one of the health care workers to receive the vaccine on Friday. May, who serves as a health officer for the Department of Health, said that he is a member of the response team which has been created to investigate possible cases of smallpox. "We have two teams of six and they can be called in any where from Greeneville to Johnson County," he said.
   May will also be a part of the effort to vaccinate key hospital and emergency workers when they begin receiving the smallpox vaccine in February. "I'll be working as a medical counselor one of those days when the hospital workers come to the clinic to be vaccinated," he said.
   Because of possible complications from the smallpox virus, extra precaution must be taken to ensure those with higher risk for severe reactions do not come in contact with the vaccine, which is made from a live virus unlike many other vaccines which use dead strains of a virus. Those who wish to receive the vaccine must go through health screenings before they are eligible to be vaccinated. "It's really in depth to make sure they don't have any contra indications or have family members with contra indications," Rader said.
   According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who have been treated for cancer are HIV-positive, have had an organ transplant, are expectant mothers or who have skin conditions such as eczema or atopic dermatitis should not receive the vaccine to prevent severe and possibly life-threatening complications.