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Friday, February 21, 2003

Smallpox Vaccinations Administered in Atlantic County

Atlantic County hospital employees who serve on smallpox response teams will be vaccinated beginning Friday, February 28 at the first smallpox immunization clinic in Atlantic County.

The clinics, scheduled for February 28 and March 7 at the Anthony J. Canale Training Center in Egg Harbor Township, are part of a federal plan to create a team of vaccinated front-line health workers who will provide medical care in the case of a possible smallpox outbreak. Vaccinations will be administered by county public health nurses who were previously immunized at a state clinic in late January.

"We appreciate the contribution of all the smallpox response team members who have volunteered to protect our community against the threat of bioterrorism," commented County Executive Dennis Levinson.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), immunized health care providers pose virtually no risk to hospital patients. Participating individuals have been trained in the importance of wearing protective bandages and observing good hygiene, especially in the weeks following vaccination.

Participants have also received training on the vaccination procedure and possible side effects. Immunizations are administered using a two-pronged needle that delivers the vaccine through a series of pricks to the skin on the upper arm. In the weeks following the procedure, immunized individuals will notice a red, itchy bump forming on the arm. This bump will eventually scab over and fall off, leaving a small scar. All patients will be evaluated daily to ensure successful immunization and monitor any side-effects which could include flu-like symptoms, fever, rash and, rarely, more severe reactions.

The current vaccinations mark Stage One of a national plan to immunize volunteer health workers. Other emergency personnel, including police, fire and ambulance workers will be eligible for vaccination during Stage Two. 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.

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 smallpox 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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