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Last Updated

13 Feb 2003

Source: Hartford Courant, February 13, 2003


State's Smallpox Vaccinations Moving Slowly

By WILLIAM HATHAWAY, Courant Staff Writer

Connecticut's smallpox vaccination program probably won't meet its goal of inoculating more than 6,000 health care workers, but it will protect enough doctors and nurses so they can respond to any emergency, one of the program's chief administrators said Wednesday.

"I'd be extremely happy with a couple thousand," said Chris Cannon, system director of the office of emergency preparedness at Yale-New Haven Health System who is overseeing the vaccination program in the southern half of the state.

Cannon said 20 health care professionals were vaccinated at Yale-New Haven Hospital Wednesday. Yale-New Haven is one of two "centers of excellence" under the state's smallpox response plan. The other is Hartford Hospital, which Monday inoculated 27 health care workers.

Last month, Connecticut became the first state in the nation to begin the federal smallpox vaccination program, when four doctors at the University of Connecticut Health Center were inoculated.

In coming weeks, those teams of nurses and doctors will vaccinate additional volunteers at their respective hospitals, as well as small groups of volunteers at Connecticut's 28 other acute-care facilities.

Hartford Hospital has said it has enough volunteers to meet its goal of 200 vaccinated workers, but Yale-New Haven will have fewer volunteers than Hartford, Cannon said.

He added that all 31 acute-care hospitals in the state will have vaccinated some staff against smallpox in case there is an outbreak in the state.

Cannon said total numbers vaccinated statewide won't be known until at least mid-April, when all hospitals will have screened potential recipients and provided shots to eligible workers.

"We can't speculate on the number of people we will have vaccinated," said Bill Gerrish, spokesman for the Department of Public Health. "But we are pleased with the progress of the program and will be ready to respond to a smallpox attack."

Gerrish estimated that 60 people in Connecticut had been vaccinated so far.

Cannon said that even 2,000 vaccinated workers should be enough to quickly inoculate other health care workers, who in turn might be called on to help launch a mass vaccination of state residents in case of an attack with smallpox virus.

Dr. Lenworth Jacobs of Hartford Hospital, Cannon's counterpart in the smallpox program in the northern portion of the state, said that during a meeting Tuesday attended by representatives from the 15 hospitals in the northern tier, nobody voiced a concern about a lack of volunteers.

Large numbers of health care workers will be ineligible for shots because they or a family member have a skin disorder, have an immune system deficiency or are pregnant, which puts them at greater risk of an adverse reaction, Cannon said.

Unions representing nurses at some hospitals have recommended members not get shots until legal questions of liability in case of adverse reactions are worked out. However, Cannon said, that has not been much of an issue in the southern part of the state.