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Health Department prepares for smallpox
Some Mecklenburg County Health Department Employees will get a smallpox vaccination as part of the state's preparation plan.

November 27, 2002


Charlotte, NC - The State of North Carolina has released to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) its plan on how it would begin smallpox vaccinations.   With the plan comes some major responsibility for the Mecklenburg County Health Department.

Currently, there are no plans to vaccinate the general public against smallpox.  The first stages of any pre-event vaccination plan would be called for by President Bush and would include key public health employees, hospital employees and emergency responders who may be the first to come in contact with a suspected smallpox case.

The first stages of vaccination would be primarily done at the Mecklenburg County Health Department and would involve several thousand people. Second stage pre-event vaccination would include other emergency responders such as law enforcement, EMS and firefighters.  This second stage would expand the number of emergency personnel offered the vaccination to 250,000 statewide. 

In order to prepare for this responsibility, some Health Department employees are participating in clinical trials of the smallpox vaccine.  "Their willingness to assume this risk for the good of the whole illustrates the commitment the Health Department has for protecting the public's health," said Mecklenburg County Health Director Peter Safir.

A portion of the Health Department's nursing staff will be trained to administer the vaccine.  A 'hands-on' session will take place in Mecklenburg County on December 6.  These staff members will then train other clinical staff. 

The smallpox vaccine is considered very effective, but does involve some level of risk.  According to the CDC, for every million people vaccinated, one or two will die of complications from the vaccine.  Several will develop life-threatening illnesses.  In the unvaccinated, as many as three in 10 would likely die if exposed. The federal government would determine any mass-vaccination against smallpox.

Any smallpox vaccination program will be voluntary, and certain people are advised NOT to receive pre-event vaccinations.  They include: expectant mothers, people who have or have ever had eczema or atopic dermatitis, those with certain cancers or HIV, or those who have had an organ transplant.  Those allergic to the vaccine, those who have experienced a moderate or severe short-term illness or anyone under 18 years of age are also not recommended for pre-event vaccination. 

For more information log onto the Health Department's Web site at

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Media Contact: D.C. Lucchesi at 704-432-0344 or

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