QVHD planning for bioterrorism

Doctors and nurses in five area towns received letters from the Quinnipiac Valley Health District (QVHD) last weekend requesting their help as volunteers for the Smallpox Vaccination Clinic Team currently under planning for the local area.

Director Leslie Balch told the Bulletin this is just the first phase of planning for a possible outbreak of the disease, which has been eradicated worldwide since l977, but is thought by the government to be a prime candidate for a biological attack.

The QVHD normally is comprised of three towns, Hamden, North Haven, and Woodbridge, but the state department of health has designated Orange and Bethany to participate in the regional smallpox clinic as well.

In the event of an outbreak, mass vaccination clinics designed to handle over 100,000 people over a t10-day period will be set up in Hamden, North Haven and Woodbridge. Balch said the Center for Disease Control used computer modeling to calculate the amount of time and numbers of volunteer staff needed for them: each clinic will need to be staffed with 120 medical and non-medical volunteers for every eight hour shift it is open.

A public health response team of 12 people, six coordinators and six vaccinators, is being assembled in addition, the letter to the health professionals said, "to carry out the initial response to a smallpox outbreak in our area."

The volunteers will be the first to receive the smallpox vaccine. Estimates for the cost of the program have not yet been calculated, as the planning is in its first phase. "The program is a priority, there is no question about whether or not we should do it," Balch said.

Costs for the response and public education to the anthrax attack last year, were approximately $2,500 in staff time according to Balch. "We're in a budget crunch and may have to increase the costs of our inspection and education programs."

Although only professionals have been contacted thus far, non-medical volunteers will be needed as well. Once the professional team is organized, the QVHD will begin requesting volunteers from the general public.

"I'm hoping (that) being prepared is a good deterrent to the spread of the disease, of being able to prevent and control consequences," Balch said.

Those interested in volunteering, both professional and non-medical, can contact the QVHC at 248-4528.