Local News

State Prepares Precautionary Plan For Smallpox Vaccinations

Posted November 19, 2002

— Weapons inspectors returned to Iraq on Monday, looking for evidence of nuclear and chemical weapon production.

The notion that any of the Iraqi weapons could spread smallpox has North Carolina and Wake County preparing a plan for smallpox vaccinations.

Thousands of people waited for hepatitis shots at the Wake County Health Department a couple of months ago. That's nothing compared to what would happen after a smallpox outbreak here.

Such an outbreak, according to Wake County Health Director Gibbie Harris, requires a plan that would "allow us to vaccinate everyone in Wake County in five days.

"That's a lot of people," Harris said.

As many as 700,000, in fact. Twenty-two sites scattered throughout the county, including schools and community centers, would have to operate 16 hours a day to vaccinate that many people.

"For five days, two eight-hour shifts a day at 22 sites, it would take over 5,000 people for us to pull this off," Harris said.

The vaccine is not yet available to do it. Smallpox vaccinations ended in this country 30 years ago. The new vaccine would first be offered to health-care workers.

"The people who would take care of anyone who might actually have smallpox," said Leah Devlin, acting North Carolina Health Director. "An outbreak could mean 8 million people vaccinated in North Carolina alone.

"We would probably evaluate each situation that might emerge on its own merit, whether there was a case in our country, or the next state, or somewhere in North Carolina."

The last case of smallpox in the U. S. was documented in 1949. The last naturally-occurring case in the world happened in 1977 in Somalia.

There's still some confusion about who should be vaccinated. According to the

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention

, expectant mothers should only receive the vaccination if they're exposed to smallpox. The same is true for people with excema, those being treated for cancer, people who are HIV positive or who have had an organ transplant, as well as those under the age of 18.

The CDC is also uncertain about the level of immunity in people who received the vaccine as children before 1972, so they are considered susceptible.

Some details of North Carolina's vaccination plan are yet to be worked out. But the CDC wants the plan complete by Dec. 1.

It's a plan that may never be used.

"But the flip side of that is not be prepared and not be able to deal with it if it happens," Harris said, "and the outcome of that is not acceptable."


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