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Vaccine Plan Kicks Off

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And this is just the first phase. In following months, the vaccine will be given to many thousands more — police, firefighters and emergency personnel.

"Right now, we're OK. In the long run, we'll have to see what the interest and need may be," says Dr. William Nelson, director of health for Chesterfield County.

The area's health departments are involved in a regional strategy to comply with President Bush's federal smallpox-vaccination program.

"Health departments have always had to tackle emergencies," Nelson says. "This is just a little bigger and will take longer."

The program falls under the umbrella of "bioterrorism preparedness" that, after Sept. 11, Congress allocated $940 million to the Department of Health and Human Services to oversee. But it's up to localities to carry out the smallpox vaccination plan.

The first phase calls for localities to give the vaccine to health-care workers on a voluntary basis. Health officials anticipate roughly 100 or so workers from each area hospital will volunteer for the vaccine. (Virginia Commonwealth University's Medical College of Virginia says it will not participate, saying the vaccine's risks outweigh its benefits.) The vaccinations are expected to begin at the end of the month and take up to 60 days.

"We don't anticipate any problems," says Michael Welch, acting human services manager with the city's Department of Public Health.

There hasn't been a case of smallpox in the United States since 1949, or anywhere in the world since 1977, says Trina Lee, public information manager for the Virginia Department of Health.

Lee says the possibility of a smallpox outbreak is extremely remote, but the virus does exist in two labs — one in Russia and one in the United States. There has been some question as to the security of the virus, she says.

The smallpox vaccination is considered effective for about five years. The Centers for Disease Control are providing the needles and vaccines. —

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