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SHOWDOWN WITH IRAQ

31 of 83 Hospitals to Take Part in Smallpox Vaccinations

Fewer than 1,000 first-care health workers volunteer in the county.

March 19, 2003|Lisa Richardson | Times Staff Writer

Only a minority of Los Angeles County hospitals report that they have health workers willing to be inoculated against the smallpox virus under the national anti-terrorism preparation program.

Hospitals were supposed to submit their lists of volunteers to the county at the start of the week. By Tuesday, 31 of the county's 83 hospitals said they would participate in the county vaccination program; 17 said they would not, and 35 did not respond.

Of the 8,300 people who would be first in line to treat a smallpox attack in Los Angeles County, fewer than 1,000 will receive the vaccination in the first phase of the program, said Carol Gunter, acting director of county Emergency Medical Services. However, she said, there may be opportunities later for others to participate.

The reluctance of health-care workers to be vaccinated has been apparent since the program began in January, mirroring a national trend, particularly in major cities. Many people fear possible side effects, and hospitals are concerned about possible liability.

As the probability of war with Iraq increases, however, the bioterrorism preparedness efforts have added urgency, said Jonathan Fielding, county public health director. He said he hopes that more health workers will sign up for the vaccine.

"The level of alert has been elevated now, and we want to do everything we can to be prepared," Fielding said. "The targets are not just infrastructure, they're people. Secretary [of Homeland Security Tom] Ridge talked about hardening the targets, well, one way we do that is to vaccinate people."

Gunter said the county asked the hospitals for lists of volunteers to schedule the vaccinations and then return any unused vaccine to the federal program. "We don't know whether the [Centers for Disease Control] will extend the time frame or provide us with additional vaccine for hospitals that come up to the plate in the future," she said.

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