Hospital says risk too high for smallpox program

Friday, February 28, 2003

Carroll Regional Medical Center will not be participating in the first round of smallpox vaccinations, as proposed by the state health department.

Carroll Regional is one of 16 hospitals statewide that have declined participation at this time.

David Dennis, president of CRMC, said the risks may be greater than the benefits at this point.

"We are opting out of the initial rounds," he stated. "There may be potential for harm to folks. With no smallpox in the world today, there's no reason to be in a tizzy.

"In our health care system," he continued, "we have an infectious disease person with ties to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). They're not being vaccinated, so why should we?" he asked.

Besides questioning the vaccine itself, Dennis was concerned with liability issues.

"If one of our staff people took the vaccine, we wouldn't allow them to work for three weeks. If there was a bad outcome, we'd have bad liability. The government has not really done anything in the immunization program to release us from liability.

"We don't want to compromise our patients with a vaccinated person," he explained.

Dennis also noted that if a person is exposed to smallpox, they have 72 hours to receive the vaccine.

"We are just not that comfortable with the vaccination process," he concluded.

Sherry Plumlee, administrator of the Carroll County Health Unit, and a few of her staff members, have volunteered to receive the vaccination, which will take place at either a Washington County or Benton County site.

"When we looked at what it takes to set up a site, we decided to set them up geographically, and have people travel rather than offer the vaccines in each county.

"When you have a vaccine open, you have to have armed guards," she explained.

Plumlee said health department staffers can continue working after they receive the vaccine because they do not see immuno compromised patients.

Plus, she said the injection site will be well covered with bandages and clothing.

"The majority of people who pass through our doors are healthy," she explained, saying that most come for immunizations, family planning, the WIC program, and the like.

While just a few staffers have stepped forward to receive the vaccine so far, Plumlee feels certain that more will volunteer if a threat is imminent.

"If the need arises, we can handle the situation," Plumlee stated.

The voluntary vaccinations were scheduled to begin on Feb. 19 and continue through the week of Feb. 24 at 20 clinics across the state.

Smallpox was eradicated worldwide as a disease but exists in labs and is considered a potential terrorist weapon.

In the event of a smallpox outbreak, health-care workers will be charged with vaccinating members of the public.

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