WASHINGTON – Maryland received its shipment of smallpox vaccinations earlier this week and plans to begin phase one of the federally mandated smallpox vaccination program by the middle of the month, state health department officials said.
The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene will work with county health departments and hospitals to vaccinate about 6,000 health care first- responders over a nine-week period. The state has set up seven regional vaccination centers that will administer the vaccine along with local health departments.
Officials said that everything is ready to go.
“We don’t foresee any problems at all,” said J.B. Hanson, a state health department spokesman. “But never say never.”
Most health departments and hospitals will vaccinate workers on a staggered basis to minimize the effect the vaccine’s symptoms would have on their daily operations, said Julie Casani, the director of the Maryland’s Community Health Administration.
Local health departments have been preparing for the vaccination process since September and the state has sponsored four training programs for the 300 to 400 volunteers who will be performing the vaccination.
Smallpox was eradicated in nature 30 years ago, but fears that the disease could be resurrected as a biological weapon spurred President Bush to unveil a three-phase vaccination plan. The first phase will vaccinate medical “first responders” — doctors, nurses, health department officials and others on the front lines of health care.
Later phases, which have not been detailed, could vaccinate emergency workers and, ultimately, the general public.
Unlike local health departments in some other states Maryland health departments have not expressed any worries about the cost or logistics of the first phase of the vaccination process.
“We see this as our responsibility,” said Dr. Christa-Marie Singleton of the Baltimore County Health Department. “We do not see this as an undue burden.”
Singleton, Baltimore County’s director of public health and emergency preparedness, said her department is ready and willing to accept the challenge of vaccinating 1,100 to 1,200 people she expects to receive the vaccine.
Because Baltimore County has been designated a regional vaccination site, Singleton said it might have to vaccinate a larger number of first responders than some smaller health departments. But she said that with money it received from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the relatively low cost of vaccinations — about $250 per 100 people– the vaccinations would go smoothly.
“Where this would be a problem are smaller health departments,” she said. “We’re fairly confident that we have our planning in order.”
But the health officer for the Washington County Health Department said he is not concerned about funding or logistics for phase one of the vaccination program.
William Christoffel said that because of Maryland’s strong public health structure and Washington County’s belief that bioterrorism preparedness is of the highest priority, the county’s plans have come together nicely. Washington County expects to vaccinate about 20 first-responders initially and eventually could vaccinate about 50 individuals.
“It’s a matter of priorities and we just put this as a priority,” Christoffel said.
He said that his department received about $138,000 for overall bioterrorism preparedness, to invest in support staff, equipment and software.
Wicomico County Health Officer Judith Sensenbrenner agreed with Christoffel that Maryland has a strong public health system, which should help make the vaccination program run smoothly.
She said that her health department plans on vaccinating about 36 staff members along with about 275 people in the area’s hospitals, including housecleaning and food service staff members.
Singleton said the greatest challenge involved with vaccinations might not be giving the shots themselves but gathering monitoring data and making the detailed explanations that go along with each vaccination.