Emergency, health officials work on area small pox plan

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Vaccinating large groups of people seemed an easy enough concept at one time for Clyde Anderson.

"They'd just line us up in the gym, say, 'Here's your sugar cube and have a nice day,'" Moffat County's emergency manager said of anti-polio efforts in the early 1960s.

Anderson now fills a good portion of his days reading up on small pox and working with community medical professionals to come up with a plan to vaccinate Moffat County's 13,000-plus residents in the event of an outbreak.

This, within five to seven days after a confirmed case occurs anywhere in the United States. The state wants to see a plan by Feb. 28, at which time some speculate the country might be at war with Iraq.

"It's likely to generate more risk as far as terrorist attack here," said Anderson, who added that none of the state mandates to draw up small pox response plans arrived with specific warnings.

Anderson said he already has answered questions about the timing of events and available supplies of small pox vaccine believed to be kept by the Centers for Disease Control at unknown regional locations.

"I don't have any inside information," he said.

Anderson, the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association and The Memorial Hospital say they're in the early stages of crafting the county's response plan to small pox.

The state wants those likely to come into initial contact with the disease vaccinated first.

"I'm on my list to get one," said Beka Warren, the infection control nurse at TMH.

Some 21 other TMH medical professionals also will be lined up for the shot, while the hospital sorts out a team that will handle small pox, according to Warren.

All of those giving the vaccine must be immunized, she said.

As TMH prepares, hospitals elsewhere still aren't sold on immunizing their own staff. At least 10 Colorado hospitals reportedly remain undecided, worried about liability issues if a patient were to be infected by an inoculated worker who could also risk infecting family members.

The federal government and insurance companies have not indicated they would be responsible in such cases, the Associated Press has reported.

One to two per one million people die of the vaccination, according to Warren.

Warren said much of the uneasiness stems from a lack of scientific research since the 1970s on a disease thought to have been conquered.

Still, she said TMH isn't

backing away from the immunization plan.

"There's going to be liability in everything we do," Warren said. "If someone got off a plane in Hayden with small pox, that person is going to be showing up in the emergency room so you might as well learn how to deal with it."

The state plans to start immunizing medical workers Jan. 24. By the end of 2004, the vaccine should be available to the rest of the public at no charge.

Meanwhile, area public health officials continue to gather information for a two-tract small pox vaccination plan -- how to respond to an outbreak and how to deliver vaccines to those that want them "pre-event."

"You don't have to take it," said Susan Bowler, VNA public health nurse manager for Moffat and Routt counties.

Part of the undeveloped plan will be convincing residents why they should take it and risks for those who probably shouldn't. Finding volunteers to fill roles from traffic control to counseling is another priority, Bowler said.

Physical locations that can be quickly made-over to handle vaccination clinics also need to be determined.

"We'll need large areas with good parking that people would be able to get in to," Bowler said.

Paul Shockley can be reached at 824-7031 or at pshockley@craigdailypress.com.

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