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TERRORISM Few in Pa. opt for smallpox vaccine



Published: Thu, March 13, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



The state's largest health-care union advised its members to say no.

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- Fewer than five dozen Pennsylvanians have opted for voluntary smallpox vaccinations, mirroring doubts nationwide about the risks of the inoculations and the likelihood of a germ attack.

Federal officials acknowledge they fell well short of their goal of vaccinating as many as 450,000 people nationwide to serve on special smallpox response teams, mostly from emergency rooms. About six weeks into the program, 12,404 people had been vaccinated.

Pennsylvania has used 57 of 22,500 vaccines it ordered from the federal government, the state Department of Health said.

"We're progressing, although not at the rate as predicted at the federal level," said Richard McGarvey, a health department spokesman. "We're taking every precaution we can."

The state's largest health-care union, District 1199P of the Service Employees International Union, advised its members to say no to the vaccine until better safeguards are in place for health-care workers and patients.

In largest cities

Most of Philadelphia's 26 hospitals said they have no plans to vaccinate until there was evidence of an outbreak of smallpox in the United States.

Meanwhile, 13 of the 26 hospitals around Pittsburgh have said they will participate.

Pittsburgh nurse Kymberli Potersnak, 43, said she was still debating whether she needed the vaccine. Potersnak said she had been inoculated as a child but frequently travels overseas and worries she could infect her parents if she got smallpox.

Smallpox has not been seen in the United States since 1949, and the disease was declared eradicated globally in 1980. But anti-terrorism officials worry that a new outbreak could result from a terrorist attack.

The vaccine is effective in preventing smallpox, but it is not without its risks.

Experts estimate that 14 to 52 people out of every 1 million vaccinated for the first time will face life-threatening complications, and one or two will die. Reactions are less common in people being revaccinated.

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said two people developed eye infections after coming into contact with vaccinated soldiers, who are part of a separate military inoculation program.

Hoping to boost the number of people inoculated under the fledgling smallpox vaccination campaign, the Bush administration laid out a proposal to compensate people injured by the inoculation.

Based on a plan available to police officers and firefighters injured on the job, the government would pay $262,100 for each person who dies or is permanently and totally disabled by the vaccine. Those less severely injured could receive up to $50,000 plus unpaid medical expenses.




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