2/10/03 - Smallpox Shots in the Heartland



Smallpox Shots in the Heartland
By:  Wendy Ray

Healthcare workers from across southeast Missouri were the first to get smallpox shots Friday at the Butler County Health Department in Poplar Bluff.

Less than 20 nurses from health departments in Cape, Stoddard and Butler counties voluntarily agreed to get the shot Friday. The health department wouldn't give us an exact number for confidentiality reasons, but they did tell us why they say it's important for health care workers to get vaccinated.

Robert Hudson, director of the Butler County Health Department says, "We're getting prepared for a worst case scenario. In case of a bioterrorism event like smallpox we need a core group of people who can track down and identify smallpox cases." That's why a small group of health care workers from Southeast Missouri voluntarily got the shot Friday afternoon. The process is different depending on your age, a series of 15 pricks into your upper arm are needed for people who already had a smallpox vaccine when they were younger. If you have never had the vaccine before, only three arm pricks are needed.

Getting the shot was just one step in a long process there. People had to go through six stages answering questions about the shot, but we weren't allowed to videotape that part for security reasons. In fact, an armed guard was brought in just for Friday's round of vaccinations, there are still two more rounds to go. Hudson says, "Stage one is local health departments, stage two is law enforcement and fire, stage three is public."

Stage two and three are down the road, health officials are looking at this stage to see how to take care of the next two. But right now the focus is on getting the people who will handle smallpox, if there's an attack, vaccinated first. "I don't think we're afraid," Hudson says. "We're anxious to get it going and get prepared."

A scab will develop where the healthcare workers got their shots. They'll need to be checked out again in a week, and then again a few weeks later. There are documented side effects to the vaccine, flu-like symptoms, redness, and fever. But since it's a live vaccine, there can be more serious, life threatening side effects, like brain inflammation or tissue destruction that can lead to death.