UNION RECOMMENDS NURSES REFUSE TODAY'S SMALLPOX SHOTS



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Last Updated

24 Jan 2003

Source: Hartford Courant, January 24, 2003

CONNECTICUT

Union Recommends Nurses Refuse Today's Smallpox Shots

By WILLIAM HATHAWAY, Courant Staff Writer

More than a dozen Connecticut doctors are lined up today to be the first of about 500,000 health-care workers in the nation to receive smallpox vaccinations under a newly launched bioterrorism plan.

However, officials at the University of Connecticut Health Center where the shots will be given said they would not give shots to several union nurses as planned. Union officials recommended that its members refuse to volunteer for the shots until several liability questions were answered.

Under provisions of the Homeland Security Act, the government today begins to accept some liability for the vaccine program, which is designed to combat a terrorist attack using the lethal viral disease that was eradicated in nature by 1977. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Connecticut is the only state in the country ready to begin vaccinating health-care workers. Military personnel already have begun receiving the shots.

However, the federal government only covers claims arising from negligence in administering or manufacturing the vaccine, not from adverse reactions from the vaccine itself.

Reflecting concerns raised by many health-care unions nationwide, officials of the University Health Professionals AFT Local 3837 said they do not know whether workers who volunteer to receive the shots and then have adverse reactions will be compensated for time lost from work, or whether assistance will be available to family members who might be inadvertently infected by the live vaccinia virus.

The union has taken no stand on the safety or efficacy of the vaccine program, and individual union members still may volunteer to be vaccinated, said Jean Morningstar, union president.

"We do have an obligation to protect the health and safety of our members," she said.

Resistance from other unions representing health-care workers could present serious obstacles to the plan to vaccinate 5,800 Connecticut health-care workers in the coming weeks, the first stage of a voluntary national plan that calls for vaccinating emergency-service providers and eventually the general public.

"This will probably slow the process unless we can get a resolution," said Jim Walter, spokesman for the UConn Health Center.

The state Department of Public Health today will release additional details about the smallpox vaccination program, said department spokesman Bill Gerrish, who declined to say Thursday whether the new details would answer the union's concerns.

The initial group of about 20 doctors and nurses, dubbed the Genesis team, is scheduled to receive shots today at UConn Health Center with two-pronged needles. At least three union nurses will not get vaccinated as planned.

The core group to be vaccinated then is scheduled to travel to other hospitals around the state to inoculate teams there, who would finish giving shots to their own key personnel in coming weeks.

Many unions across the country have argued that the program should be delayed until all questions about liability can be hashed out. However, the smallpox program has taken on a new urgency as the United States continues its military buildup near Iraq, which may be one of the nations with stockpiles of the deadly virus.

While the vaccine, used in the United States until 1972, is believed to be safe, public-health officials acknowledge that it carries greater risks of serious side effects than most vaccines used today. About one person in every million vaccinated is expected to die, and dozens more could face life-threatening complications.