- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

HAGERSTOWN, Md. (AP) Hospitals in the state remain wary of the Bush administration's smallpox vaccination program two weeks before its expected start date, the Maryland Hospital Association said.
"Everybody's asking questions, and nobody has all the answers that they're looking to have before this vaccination process begins," association spokeswoman Nancy Fiedler said Thursday.
Last month, President Bush proposed voluntary vaccinations for millions of health care workers, including 6,000 in Maryland, who would be the first responders to an outbreak of the disease from a biological weapons attack.
Distribution of the vaccine is expected to begin no sooner than Jan. 24 and possibly not until Jan. 27, said John Hammond, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Some hospitals have not yet committed to the program, though, because of questions about the safety of the vaccine, which is made from a live virus. Experts estimate that 15 out of every 1 million people vaccinated will develop life-threatening complications and that one out of every million will die.
Miss Fiedler said some medical professionals believe that vaccinating hospital workers could transmit the disease to patients whose resistance has been lowered by HIV infection or other conditions.
"Do the individuals who are inoculated have to be put on administrative leave because of concern with exposing those patients they're treating? There is not a body of insight that clarifies it one way or another," she said.
The doubts may prevent Frederick Memorial Hospital from participating in the plan to vaccinate 100 of its workers, spokesman Ken Coffey said.
"There are a lot of questions," Mr. Coffey said. "If we, like many of the other hospitals in the same boat, get answers to these questions, we'll be the first to step up."
The Frederick County Health Department still plans on vaccinating a six-person smallpox response team, Dr. James Bowes, the county health officer, said.
Washington County Hospital has also expressed doubts about the program.
"We are not comfortable even asking for volunteers until we are more certain that our employees will be safe," spokesman Barry Nickelsberg said last month.
Many doctors and nurses around the country have also been reluctant to commit to the program.
Mr. Hammond said state health officials are aware of questions. "We appreciate their concerns and we're working with them," he said.

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