FDNY SETS TERMS FOR SMALLPOX VACCINES



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Last Updated

15 Apr 2003

Source: Newsday, April 15, 2003

FDNY Sets Terms For Smallpox Vaccines

By William Murphy, Staff Writer

Firefighters who have an adverse reaction to smallpox vaccinations will be treated as if they have a line-of-duty injury, the Fire Department said Monday.

The decision apparently clears the way for the voluntary vaccinations to start soon, first with units assigned to the Special Operations Command, which would respond to any bioterror attack.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association said Monday that it has dropped its opposition to having its members get the inoculations and would let individual members decide.

The union said the department has agreed to provide its members with a higher level of medical and other benefits, such as free prescription drugs, in cases of an adverse reaction.

The higher level of benefits would also apply to the immediate families of firefighters, who could conceivably contract the smallpox virus from saliva droplets, clothing or bedding of a firefighter in the family who develops the disease due to a severe reaction to the vaccination.

"The likelihood of serious illness or death is extremely rare," the union said in a message to its members. There are fears of a terrorist attack against America using smallpox virus, but the immunization against it can cause health problems for some people, even death in rare cases.

"If you are taking advantage of this opportunity to protect yourself and family from this deadly disease, please read all information provided by the department to ensure that you do not have any pre-condition which would make it inadvisable to receive this vaccination," the message said.

The department plans to provide four-hour informational meetings by its Bureau of Health Services, which firefighters can attend voluntarily, on overtime.

The Uniformed Fire Officers Association also said it welcomed the latest medical information from the department. The union had recommended that firefighters make their own decision after consulting with a department doctor, their personal physician and their family.

"We are advising you to consult with your private physician and talk to your family and make your own decisions," the officers' union said in a message to its members.

"We're happy they're on board," department spokesman Jim Long said of the unions.

He said the department would screen firefighters who might be prone to a bad reaction because they are smokers, have high blood pressure, or have a family history of heart problems, among other risks.

The first vaccinations will be for members of the Haz-Mat Unit, the five rescue companies and members of other specially trained units, followed by firefighters in local firehouses, according to the department.