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Last Updated

11 Jan 2003

Source: Newsday, January 11, 2003


Smallpox Shots Pushed to March

By Margaret Ramirez, STAFF WRITER

As hospitals across the nation prepare for the first phase of smallpox vaccinations, the New York City Department of Health said it probably would not begin vaccinating hospital workers until March.

The city originally had said it would begin offering workers the voluntary vaccinations by the end of this month, as urged by President George W. Bush. But city health officials and physicians they briefed at a meeting Thursday said more time was needed to educate workers, screen volunteers, and train designated hospital employees to administer the vaccine.

"They're moving slowly, but carefully," said Dr. Robert C. Rothberg, site director of the emergency room at NYU Medical Center. "This is not something you want to rush."

Sandra Mullin, spokeswoman for the city Health Department, said Health Department staff would be vaccinated first, starting next month. Then, that staff would vaccinate a select group of workers at each hospital and train them to be vaccinators.

The federal government is expected to ship 15,000 doses of smallpox vaccine to New York City. But Mullin said no date has been set for distribution of the vaccine.

"Certainly, the start of the program is predicated on many things including training, development of a database and release of the vaccine," Mullin said. "There's a lot more work to be done before putting needle to skin."

Hospitals have been asked to notify the city Health Department by Monday on whether they plan to participate in the program, which is voluntary.

About 200 hospital officials were briefed Thursday on the city's updated smallpox plan at a meeting organized by the Greater New York Hospital Association.

Rothberg, of NYU, who was among them, said "scrupulous attention to detail" is needed, in part to ensure that the vaccinia virus in the vaccine is not accidentally transmitted to a person who could become seriously ill.

"All it will take is one case where the virus is transmitted," he said, "and this whole thing is in big trouble."

Dr. Ruth Smith, director of personnel health services at Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, who also attended, said another cause for delay was that federal health officials had not completed the necessary educational materials and consent forms.

"The city Health Department has told us not to solicit volunteers until we do the training and we can't do the training until we have the educational material," Smith said.