18 workers get smallpox shots

Health care staffers first in city to be inoculated in national readiness effort

February 22, 2003|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Eighteen health care workers were inoculated against smallpox in Baltimore yesterday - the long-anticipated inaugural step in creating a Maryland work force to respond in the event of an outbreak.

After months of planning, nine employees each from the Baltimore Health Department and the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene voluntarily rolled up their sleeves at the Clarence H. Du Burns Arena in Southeast Baltimore. City Health Department workers administered the vaccine.

"This provides a ready health-response work force, and it provides the protection to go out and do the job should there be a case or an outbreak," said Dr. Julie Casani, head of Maryland's Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, who received the vaccine.

About 6,000 state health care workers are expected to be inoculated in the first phase of a national smallpox preparedness program designed to deal with a potential biological attack.

Dipti Shah, a state epidemiologist, was among yesterday's volunteers, receiving the vaccine in her left arm by way of 15 pricks from a two-pronged needle. She said she volunteered so she would be able to respond to an outbreak.

"Right now there isn't an imminent threat, but we just want to be prepared," she said.

Vaccine carries risk

Although smallpox is deadly to about a third of those who contract it, the vaccine - made from a live virus related to smallpox but less deadly - can be dangerous, too.

Based on past experience, experts estimate that for every 1 million people inoculated, 14 to 52 will develop life-threatening complications and one or two will die.

The state is inoculating only those who have been vaccinated before, since they're less likely to develop adverse reactions.

"We are being extremely conservative with who we are immunizing," said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, Baltimore's health commissioner. "This vaccine is unlike most vaccines that we're used to today."

Pregnant women, people with skin conditions such as eczema and those with weakened immune systems should not receive the vaccine.

Hopkins staff on list

Johns Hopkins Hospital has announced plans to vaccinate as many as 250 nurses, doctors and other workers during the next six to nine months. The University of Maryland Medical Center said it would inoculate 40 - with a "ready reserve" of 210 others who could be quickly vaccinated if necessary.

Although smallpox vaccinations were once required of all schoolchildren, the disease was eradicated worldwide more than two decades ago, and routine immunizations stopped. The last case in the United States occurred in 1949.

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