Web Site Offers Smallpox Shot Advice; UF Scientists Help You with Decision

Article excerpt

Byline: P. Douglas Filaroski, Times-Union staff writer

Now that smallpox shots may become a question for everyone, a new Web site developed by two University of Florida scientists says it can help people decide whether to roll up their sleeves.

Its authors say the site analyzes risks and steers people objectively as the country prepares for the threat of biological warfare. But the site's first link is "Why you do NOT need a smallpox vaccination," and the authors say most people are more likely to win the lottery than contract smallpox.

"Most people view the risk of getting smallpox as greater than it actually is," said Parker Small of the university's College of Medicine, who co-authored the site with risk assessment specialist John Paling.

Small and Paling say the site is the first of its kind to try to calculate the risks associated with smallpox. But a federal health spokesman said people would be better off getting the government's advice.

"Education is the only thing we've got to decrease irrational fear," Small said now that Florida officials plan to inoculate 35,000 health workers this month in a first phase of a nationwide preparedness effort.

Florida's plans call for vaccinating 435,000 health and emergency workers by June, and possibly offering shots to millions in the public in January 2004.

Inoculating the public is controversial because the vaccine carries a risk of serious side effects, including death for 1 to 3 in a million who receive it.

The Web site lists six steps to making a decision and a table for calculating risk before and after a terrorist attack might occur.

Factors include whether someone is older than 30 and lives in a large city. The authors agreed with government health officials that people vaccinated during a federal program that ended in 1972 would likely remain protected while assuming terrorists would strike a large city, Small said.

The authors did not consult or seek approval from state or federal health officials before launching the site. …