Local Health Workers Preparing for Vaccine Volunteers Readying Their Arms for Shot against Smallpox

Article excerpt

Byline: Carmen Greco Jr. Daily Herald Staff Writer

Jessica Gerdes knows it could leave a permanent, dime-sized scar on her arm.

She knows it carries health risks, though they're somewhat remote in her case.

And she knows - hopes - it may end up being completely unnecessary.

But later this month, the DuPage County Health Department nurse is scheduled to roll up her sleeve to get a smallpox vaccination at a special county immunization clinic.

Gerdes, 52, will join the ranks of local healthcare workers who have volunteered to be among the first in the area to receive the shots as part of the county's preparedness for a potential bioterrorist attack.

Should the smallpox virus be introduced here in a terrorist attack, health workers like Gerdes would be first on the scene to vaccinate citizens or treat those already exposed to the potentially fatal disease that was virtually wiped out in the 1970s.

"It sounds corny, but it really is a public service for me," Gerdes said of her decision to have the shot. "As a public health nurse, I feel it's my duty to help out with any national health concern."

Health concerns have cropped up around the vaccine itself, which hasn't been generally administered in the United States since the early 1970s.

In late March, state health officials put a hold on all smallpox clinics as potential side-effects of the vaccine were investigated more thoroughly.

The moratorium came after a half-dozen people in Illinois experienced minor adverse reactions such as rashes, body aches and low-grade fevers, said Jan Welliever, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Last month, the state gave the all-clear to resume the vaccination clinics. DuPage County health officials also released new guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People now being steered away from the vaccine include those with weak immune systems, heart or skin conditions and women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy.

"This process is a little bit different from a normal vaccination clinic," Welliever said. "Everyone has gone through a detailed screening and education process. Once they get to the clinic, they will get more information ... Up until the minute they receive the vaccination, they will have an opportunity to decline."

Jack Hickey, administrative director of safety and corporate risk at Edward Hospital in Naperville, said workers have been trained to treat smallpox and schooled on the vaccine. …