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State Delays Small Pox Vaccinations

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – New York State says it's not ready to begin small pox vaccinations for health care workers. Health officials say too many questions still loom about the controversial federal program.

Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Anthony Billittier says since there is "no immediate threat" of small pox the voluntary program will be delayed statewide until safety concerns are answered.

"We will not give any shots until we're sure we have all the bases covered," Billittier said. "It's likely that limited staff will begin to be vaccinated sometime in February. But that's subject to change, depending on further developments."

Last month, President Bush announced that a voluntary vaccination program would begin as part of a homeland security effort. But the health care industry is worried about risks to those who volunteer for the shots and exposure to patients. Those with compromised immune systems, HIV, AIDS or people with eczema would not be candidates for the vaccine.

Billittier says there are also a number of liability issues, including the signing of consent forms.

"If somebody were to have a side effect from the vaccine, a question remains of who is responsible, who is paying for the health care of that person," Billittier said. "So, those are the biggest issues right now that need to be worked out and will be over time."

Billittier says "realistically" the county could begin vaccinations in March or April, but no date is final. He says the county would be able to vaccinate 100 workers at each local hospital in the County.

Billittier says some local public health workers have already volunteered. He says it is important for the public to know that if there was a confirmed small pox case, the county could quickly deliver needed vaccinations.