Emergency crews to get smallpox vaccination

First-response teams planned for hospitals

January 26, 2003|By Jennifer Blenner | Jennifer Blenner,SUN STAFF

Emergency first-responders for Harford County's two hospitals - Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air and Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace - will be vaccinated against smallpox when Maryland receives the vaccine, according to the county Health Department.

Harford is planning health response teams that will consist of three groups of six people each, said Pat Okin, communicable disease supervisor. All team members will be trained and vaccinated.

Debbie Bittle, director of risk management and patient safety at Upper Chesapeake, said the hospitals are working to provide educational packets for response team members.

She said it is important to create teams in order to respond to an outbreak. "Our biggest challenge is getting enough people on the team," she said.

Maryland will receive the smallpox vaccine within the next week or two, said J.B. Hanson, deputy director of public relations at the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

Baltimore County is collaborating with Harford County to provide the vaccine. Clinics will be available in Baltimore County to vaccinate hospital-based health-care workers and public health employees who have volunteered to be vaccinated against smallpox and who meet the criteria to receive the vaccine, said Dr. Michelle Leverett, health officer for Baltimore County.

"The smallpox vaccine has a risk of side effects, and the CDC has published criteria that should be met by persons who are willing to volunteer to minimize risk of side effects," Leverett said.

The Army has vaccinated approximately 100 soldiers and health-care professionals for smallpox at Aberdeen Proving Ground since mid-December, said APG spokesman George Mercer.

The base's program is coordinated with Walter Reed Army Medical Center, he said, and focuses primarily on personnel deploying to high-risk areas. APG and Harford County health officials have been in contact to ensure "they're all on the same page from a public health standpoint" and that they aren't working at cross-purposes, Mercer said. But APG is not overseeing the county's program.

No adverse reactions or complications have been reported among those vaccinated at APG, Mercer said.

Leverett said three categories of people are at risk - those with weakened immune systems, women who are pregnant, and people who have the skin condition eczema.

Phase two of the inoculation program would involve additional public health teams and hospital personal; phase three would be implemented if there is an outbreak of the disease.

"Right now, everything is voluntary," Hanson said. "No one is being forced to be vaccinated."

The risks are minimal, Hanson said, and the most important thing is to make sure you are healthy, he said.

"By having the vaccination we are increasing our preparedness in case of a biological incident of smallpox and to teach us to work together as a team."

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