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    Tuesday, March 04, 2003

    Public Health Stupidity: Ohio's Department of Public Health has been keeping its smallpox vaccination program a classified secret, in the name of "national security":

    The reason for the secrecy, Health Department officials said, was to keep terrorists from knowing who has been vaccinated, so they couldn't target hospitals where staff members hadn't been given the vaccine.

    Ha! Right. As one critic points out:

    A hospital is a very unlikely target, Taylor said. Airports and malls would offer larger, more mobile populations to infect. And even if hospitals were targeted and every hospital employee were vaccinated, the entire patient population would still be unvaccinated and exposed.

    And another:

    The state's claim of national security strikes Mehlman as ``a little hysterical.'' Other experts across the country call it ``silly,'' ``misplaced'' and simply unnecessary and ineffective.

    The article criticizes the secrecy from the standpoint that it leaves patients not knowing what hospital has workers who have been vaccinated, thus depriving them of the right to protect themselves from getting infected from vaccinated healthcare workers. That concern is unfounded. So far, there has been only one case of contact vaccinia, and that was in a close household contact. The virus in the vaccine is only transmissible through close contact with the vaccine wound, or from contact with clothing or linen that has the scab on it. This can be avoided, especially in the work place:

    Wound dressings have become much more advanced, keeping in moisture to improve healing while blocking bacteria and viruses, including the vaccinia virus used in smallpox vaccinations.

    ``If you've got that (bandage) on the arm, on top of that a shirt, on top of that a white coat, there's no way a virus can get through those things,'' Cooper said. ``I don't think there's any remote way it's going to get through and infect people.''

    To pass vaccinia on to a patient, he said, doctors would have to somehow get a dose of the vaccine under their fingernails -- maybe by scratching the vaccination site -- and then gouge a patient enough to break the skin.

    The reporter refutes this contention by citing another public health official from California:

    ``Barrier dressings are extremely uncomfortable and have to be worn for 10 days,'' he said. ``When you're talking about half a million people, that is just not going to happen. Doctors and nurses will have to remove those dressings just to do their daily grind, and, in the process, they'll come in close contact with lots of very vulnerable immunosuppressed patients.''

    That's just silly. There's no reason a bandage on the upper arm would have to be removed to do one's daily activities. I would hope, that of all people, doctors and nurses are responsible enough to keep their bandages on until the vaccine site heals. And in the past, when bandages weren't as effective, and the cleaning of hospital linens not as stringent as they are today, the transmission of vaccinia from the vaccine to others wasn't rampant:

    Even so, between 1907 and 1975, there have been just 85 reported cases of vaccinia infection due to contact with a vaccinated person. Nine of those 85 patients (11 percent) died.

    We're in the midst of a developing full-blown anti-vaccine hysteria. More and more, it's being treated by the media as something that's as deadly and as contagious as the disease from which it protects us. This is simply bad medicine on the part of public health officials. And Ohio's secretive policy only contributes further to the problem.

    Just why is the state health department being so secretive about their program? Could it be that they're trying to hide just how little they've actually done? More and more, public health departments are proving themselves inadequate to the task of a vaccine program aimed at national security. Perhaps its time to move the program to a different department.

    posted by Sydney on 3/04/2003 08:00:00 AM 0 comments


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