Tuesday, March 18, 2003

N.Ky health workers get smallpox shot

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FLORENCE - Two of the first Northern Kentucky health care workers to receive the smallpox vaccine on Monday described it as no worse than a needle prick.

"Is that it?" Dr. Mark Boyd asked after he was poked 15 times in the bicep with a two-pronged needle. Minutes later, he told reporters that he was not concerned about any personal risk from the procedure, which felt "just like a little needle prick.''

Dr. Boyd, 43, associate director for residency and family medicine at St. Elizabeth Medical Center and a district health board member, let the media witness his vaccination at the Boone County Health Center on Monday evening.

Scott Bowden, 46, the Northern Kentucky health department's new counter-bioterrorist administrator, also rolled up his sleeve in front of the cameras to receive his vaccination.

Both men had received the vaccination as children, and Bowden also had received three smallpox inoculations while serving in the military.

During the next eight weeks, about 300 Northern Kentucky health care workers will be inoculated, registered nurse Jennifer Hunter said. The vaccinations will be given after hours at the Boone County Health Center by eight Northern Kentucky nurses, who received the vaccination a month ago in Frankfort.

President Bush ordered the release of the vaccine last summer amid fears of terrorist attacks.

The Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department is the first local health department in Kentucky to begin vaccinating medical personnel who might encounter a case of smallpox, said Hunter, a quality assurance manager for the health department.

Hunter was one of the first health workers in the state vaccinated so she could be part of the training and vaccination program here.

At any point during the screening process, local volunteers can choose not to receive the vaccine, Hunter said.

"Our hope today was to let people know we are getting prepared for what we hope is an unlikely event, but one that we are taking seriously, nonetheless," said Dr. Gary Crum, public health director for the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Department.

The Boone County Health Center in Florence is one of 10 regional clinics to begin vaccinating people who would be on the front lines should a smallpox case occur, state and local health officials said.

Smallpox, a highly contagious virus, killed hundreds of millions of people in past centuries. However, it hasn't been seen in the United States since 1949. The only acknowledged stockpiles are in government laboratories in the United States and Russia.

Even "shedding" virus from an inoculation site can put young children, the elderly or people with compromised immune systems at risk.

A second phase of voluntary vaccinations, tentatively scheduled to start this summer, would involve fire, police, life squad members, and other physician groups, including dentists, said Gwenda Bond, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Cabinet for Health Services.

A third as-yet-unscheduled tier would involve voluntary vaccinations for the general public.

"In light of recent events, this system and chronological order might change," Hunter said.

In Ohio, 734 public health care and hospital workers have received the smallpox vaccination, said Bret Atkins, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Health in Columbus. Kentucky had vaccinated 142 before Monday, said Dr. Steven Englender, the state epidemiologist for Kentucky.

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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