February 17, 2003

Smallpox policy adopted

By Michael Terrazas mterraz@emory.edu

The President’s Cabinet has approved a new policy addressing smallpox vaccinations of employees that is intended to protect both the general Emory population and visiting health care patients.

Beginning immediately, all employees who receive mandatory smallpox vaccinations—either related to research work involving smallpox and/or related vaccines, or through the military—are required to inform the infection control departments at Emory Hospital (404-712-7156) or Crawford Long (404-686-2351) prior to the vaccination. After being vaccinated, employees then are required to inform Employee Health Services, again at Emory Hospital (404-686-8589) or at Crawford Long (404-686-2537).

Under the policy, vaccinated employees will be precluded from working with immuno-compromised patients (AIDS sufferers, for instance, or newborns in neonatal intensive care units) during the roughly three weeks it takes for a smallpox vaccination to heal. During that period, vaccinated employees “must keep their vaccination site covered with a gauze dressing until the scab separates, wear long sleeves and wash their hands often.”

“We are interested in doing all we can to assure our fellow workers that they will not be put into any form of jeopardy should they be in the presence of those who have recently been vaccinated against smallpox,” said President Bill Chace.

Though smallpox vaccinations do not actually contain the smallpox virus, they do contain a live related virus, vaccinia, which helps the body develop immunity to smallpox. During the three-week healing period following vaccination, vaccinia can be spread from the vaccinated individual to others. The policy is retroactive in the sense that individuals still within that three-week window (anyone who has been vaccinated since late January) are asked to give notification.

“Our medical consultants believe, and they have so advised us, that the simple steps we have outlined will prove effective against the communication of vaccinia,” Chace said.

The University’s policy follows a recent similar policy by Emory Healthcare (EHC), which will be vaccinating a limited number of employees. Though EHC is not included in the state of Georgia’s initial plan to vaccinate health care workers at trauma centers statewide, later phases of the plan do call for vaccination of EHC employees.

Also, University Secretary Gary Hauk said some 75 active Army reservists or National Guard members work at Emory, and another 45 employees are inactive members of those groups.

Betsy Hackman, EHC director of infection control, said the new policies are “middle of the road” in the precautions they take. While vaccinated employees will not be allowed to work with immuno-compromised patients, they will be able to work with patients with typically functioning immune systems.

By asking employees to give notice of vaccination beforehand, Hackman said infection control simply wants to keep records of who is vaccinated and when (in the event of a bioterrorism attack), and to make sure these employees do not work with immuno-suppressed individuals. After the vaccination, Employee Health Services will monitor individuals to make sure they are healing as expected.






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