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Health workers to be vaccinated against smallpox

Health workers to be vaccinated against smallpox

Small teams of health care workers are to be vaccinated against smallpox as a precaution against any potential outbreak in the UK. In addition a small number of specialist military personnel will be vaccinated.

In a written Parliamentary statement, Health Minister John Hutton said:

"Since the tragic events of September 11th, the Department of Health has strengthened its plans against any deliberate release of biological agents, including smallpox.

"We have no evidence of a specific threat of a smallpox attack on the UK. However, it is sensible and prudent to ensure that the NHS can deal effectively with any potential threat.

"There are three components to the Department's preparation for response to a possible smallpox emergency: improved vaccine stocks, a plan of action and a cohort of immunised staff who could deal safely with any potential smallpox cases.

"We have already taken action to substantially increase our stocks of smallpox vaccine and we have recently begun a second procurement to add to these stocks.

"The Department of Health is today publishing an interim plan of action for discussion and comment over the coming month. Under this plan, it is intended to establish 12 Regional Smallpox Response Groups around the UK.

"They will consist of Infectious disease physicians and paediatricians, public health physicians, microbiologists/virologists, acute care and communicable disease control nurses and occupational health staff.

"This core group of NHS staff will need to be immune to smallpox and therefore able to react quickly and work safely with patients with actual or suspected smallpox. Preparations for the vaccination of these key workers is now underway. I expect these vaccinations to be completed by the end of next month. It is intended to vaccinate around 350 health care staff across the UK.

"This will be on an entirely voluntary basis with informed consent. The Ministry of Defence, with whom we are working closely, is planning to vaccinate a similar cohort of specialist military personnel.

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"The Plan also explains how smallpox cases would be handled in various scenarios. The Department of Health's primary strategy would be to contain and 'ring vaccinate' around any outbreak. The teams of vaccinated health care staff are central to delivering this strategy.

"These plans are a practical precaution designed to ensure the UK is prepared for any possible smallpox emergency. They are in line with World Health Organisation advice and will be kept under active review.

"Similar interim plans are being prepared for publication by the Devolved Administrations.

"This work has been taken forward under the cross-Governmental Civil Contingency machinery for which the Home Secretary has overall responsibility."

In a separate announcement the MoD says it will offer vaccination against smallpox to a small number of specialist military personnel.

In a Written Ministerial Statement, Defence Minister, Dr Lewis Moonie, said:

"We have decided to offer vaccination against smallpox to a small number of specialist military personnel whose specialisation means they face a greater risk of exposure to smallpox. This will include those nuclear biological chemical specialists and specialist medical personnel who would form the spearhead of our defensive response, including vaccination teams, in the event of a confirmed, suspected or threatened release of smallpox."

The MoD continually reviews the package of defensive measures available to the Armed Forces to protect them against chemical and biological attack. The current assessment is that there is no immediate threat to our Armed Forces from smallpox. However, the consequences of any smallpox release could be very serious, so the MoD continues to monitor the threat closely and take sensible precautions.

Extra info...

The Smallpox Plan - Interim guidelines for Smallpox Response and Management in the Post-Eradication era - has been published on the Department of Health website. The Plan outlines the strategies and approaches that would guide national and local responses to a smallpox emergency.

- http://www.doh.gov.uk/epcu/cbr/biol/smallpoxplan.htm

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