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Thursday, January 30, 2003

Atlantic County Health Workers To Receive Smallpox Vaccinations

Eight county public health workers will receive smallpox vaccinations on Friday, January 31 as Atlantic County begins the first phase of a federal plan to immunize medical and public health personnel across the country.
"This proactive step is part of Atlantic County's overall strategy to prepare for any public health emergency – including a smallpox outbreak," explained County Executive Dennis Levinson.

The smallpox vaccine will be administered to county health employees who have volunteered to serve on the county smallpox response team and form the first line of defense in the case of a possible bioterrorist attack. Soon the vaccine will also be available to designated personnel from hospitals across South Jersey.

"Although there is no current threat, the immunization program ensures that we have a vaccinated team ready to investigate and control any potential case of smallpox in our community," stated Atlantic County Health Officer Tracye McArdle.

Participating health workers will receive the vaccine tomorrow at a state facility in Trenton. Next month, select hospital workers will begin receiving the vaccine in seven designated sites across the state. Atlantic County will host vaccination clinics for hospital workers at the Anthony J. Canale Training Center in Egg Harbor Township beginning on February 28.

These actions mark the beginning of a three-stage state plan to prepare for a potential bioterrorist attack. Stage One involves vaccinating designated public health workers and hospital staff. Other emergency personnel, including police, fire and ambulance workers will be vaccinated in Stage Two later this year. In Stage Three, the vaccine will be made available to the general public, although mass immunizations are not recommended at this time. All vaccinations are completely voluntary.

Those receiving the vaccine on Friday have received extensive training regarding the risks and benefits of vaccination, including possible side effects such as flu-like symptoms, rashes and, occasionally, more severe reactions. Participants have already been screened for conditions such as eczema, weakened immune systems and pregnancy which can cause more serious side effects. Individuals with these contraindications are not eligible to receive the vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is safe for medical personnel who receive the vaccine to treat patients. Local vaccine participants will receive special training and bandages to ensure that the virus cannot be transmitted to patients. They will also undergo daily checks for side effects. Any workers suffering from adverse reactions will be eligible for state worker's compensation benefits.

The smallpox vaccine was routinely administered to all U.S. residents until 1972. The last case of smallpox in the United States was reported in 1949 and the World Health Organization declared the natural disease eradicated from the world in 1979. The only known smallpox samples are stored in research laboratories in the United States and Russia. The new vaccination program results from concern over the possibility that terrorists might possess the virus and use it as a biological weapon.

For more information about smallpox and the current vaccination program, visit the CDC Web site at www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/smallpox, the Atlantic County Division of Public Health Web site at www.aclink.org/publichealth or call 609-645-5935.

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