Smallpox Inoculations Could Be Given in January
Health Care: Cost of Initial Doses Will Be Covered By Federal Government
BY MARION WEBB
Senior Staff Writer
Thousands of San Diego hospital health care workers who want to be inoculated with the smallpox vaccine may get it as early as next month.
Dr. Nancy Bowen, interim public health officer for the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, said the county has ordered 3,300 doses of the smallpox vaccine to cover voluntary inoculation of health care and emergency workers at 22 acute care hospitals.
Some 200 more nurses working at county-run clinics will also receive the vaccine.
The county’s smallpox initiative, which was announced Dec. 13, follows President George W. Bush’s recommendation to vaccinate 500,000 health care workers nationwide by spring, and up to 10 million more health care workers, firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians.
Smallpox vaccinations differs from other immunizations because recipients can accidentally transmit the live virus in the vaccine to others by touching the unhealed vaccination site or through contaminated clothing, putting other people at risk for serious complications.
The plan calls for identifying 200 health care workers across the county, mostly nurses , over the next two weeks to be vaccinated by mid- to late January. The recipients will then vaccinate hospital workers at several county facilities away from hospital patients, she said.
She estimated it would take three weeks to inoculate the first wave of health professionals working in emergency rooms, intensive care and inpatient units, or “first-responders” who are at the greatest risk to exposure to smallpox.
Scripps, Sharp HealthCare, Palomar Pomerado Health and other San Diego hospital systems have submitted estimated numbers of volunteers for the vaccine, ranging anywhere from 50 to 400 per hospital, Bowen said.
Not everyone will qualify or volunteer to be immunized after learning the risk factors.
People with skin conditions, such as eczema, weakened immune systems due to HIV infection or those undergoing cancer therapy, as well as pregnant women should not get the vaccine. Complications include rashes that can destroy the skin, blindness, brain inflammation and death, according to published reports.
Representatives of Scripps and Palomar Pomerado said they will hand out learning material provided by the county to staff members this week. The material aims to help workers assess the risk of vaccination, he said.
Liability Issues Remain
“Our employees are very eager to know everything they can about smallpox,” said Dr. Brent Eastman, chief medical officer at Scripps, a five-hospital system in San Diego.
“They have heard about it on the national news and want to hear from their own health care system what we are going to do.”
Eastman said Scripps hasn’t “created the opportunity” nor gotten requests from staff members for smallpox inoculations.
Asked whether he will get vaccinated, Brentwood answered “probably.”
Tamara Hemmerly, a spokeswoman for Palomar Medical Center in Escondido and Pomerado Hospital in Poway, estimated 100 health providers may volunteer for vaccination.
“We’re waiting to hear from the county on our next step,” Hemmerly said.
Bowen and Eastman agreed the initiative will take a certain financial toll on hospitals due to lost productivity from absent health care workers. Several are expected to come down with the flu after their smallpox vaccination.
The federal government will pay for the vaccine, but certain liability issues remain, such as when a smallpox recipient inadvertently transmits the virus to others and they get sick.
Bowen said no one will get vaccinated here until the bill takes effect.
The Homeland Security bill was signed into law Nov. 24, but won’t take effect until the Department of Homeland Security becomes active Jan. 24, said Michael Scardaville, a policy analyst for homeland security with the Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The legislation seeks to ensure that people administering the vaccine are protected from liability claims by people who accepted the vaccine but later fell ill, according to an article published by the Heritage Foundation, a think-tank in Washington, D.C.