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Last Updated

14 Feb 2003

Source: Newsday, February 14, 2003

Bloomberg to Take a Shot

Says smallpox vaccine is safe

By Margaret Ramirez, STAFF WRITER

In another sign of the city's precautions against a possible bioterror attack, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said yesterday he would receive a smallpox vaccination soon after the program begins next week.

The mayor's decision to participate personally in the federal smallpox vaccination effort was announced during a briefing at Police Plaza that detailed the city's heightened security measures.

Health officials at the briefing also released specific details of the city's smallpox plan, saying the program would begin Feb. 19, with vaccinations to be administered first to Department of Health staff.

"Our first intent is to immunize those who will be giving inoculations to the first responders," Bloomberg said.

"My intention is to take a shot, not because we think the general public should take it, but just to send a message to first responders that I think it's safe. I would never ask anybody to do something that I wouldn't do myself," the mayor said.

Health officials said last week that the city received its first shipment of smallpox vaccine from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. With that shipment, the vaccinations will start next week. Vaccination of health department staff will continue through mid-March.

In mid-March, hospital workers who have volunteered for the program will begin receiving inoculations. Sandra Mullin, spokeswoman for the Health Department, said 68 of 72 hospitals have agreed to participate in the smallpox program.

The four hospitals that have opted out of the program are: Brooklyn Hospital, St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Queens, North General Hospital in Harlem and New York Community Hospital. Hospital officials could not be reached to comment.

Since the smallpox program was announced in December, health officials have been meeting with hospital unions, police and fire officials as well as HIV/AIDS groups to review the vaccination plan and their concerns, said Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden.

Several groups, including the American Nurses Association, had expressed concerns about adverse side effects. People with weakened immune systems and pregnant women are being told by authorities not to participate.

But with the threat of terror heightened, health officials said yesterday that if an actual smallpox outbreak were to occur, those conditions would not apply. Vaccinations would be offered to anyone exposed because the risk from the vaccine might outweigh the risk of serious illness from smallpox.