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"It may be a small step in alleviating the distress, but it's a step. It can take away at least one ring of fear."
Wanted: Volunteers for a Vaccination
ED physician Christina Catlett tells why she will soon be rolling up a sleeve for the smallpox inoculation.

 
Christina Catlett in the emergency department.
It's been more than a month since JHM's Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response (CEPAR) announced its plan for vaccinating a core group of health care workers against an old enemy, smallpox. Now, the call for volunteers has gone out to functional units throughout the three Hopkins hospitals.

Potentially, as many as 250 from Hopkins Hospital, 175 from Bayview, and 100 from Howard Country General could be vaccinated over six to nine months. Among these first responders will be doctors and nurses, techs and therapists, housekeepers and laboratory workers-in short, anyone who routinely comes into contact with patients. As part of CEPAR's "go slow" plan, they will be inoculated in small groups, at a rate of about five to 10 a week, to insure safety for the volunteers and patients.

Among the first to roll up a sleeve will be Christina Catlett, emergency medicine physician and deputy director of CEPAR, the force behind Johns Hopkins' institution-wide emergency preparedness program. As part of its "low risk" approach, one that protects patients as well as the volunteers, Hopkins will vaccinate only those who meet certain criteria. Catlett meets them all.

In the first place, she has none of the contraindications (developed by Hopkins' Epidemiology and Infection Control and the federal Centers for Disease Control), like certain skin conditions or a weakened immune system, that would put her at risk for complications. She does not have a baby at home, and she is confident that she will not infect her husband. "With regular wound care and the protective dressing provided, it would be very hard to pass this on to family members."

Most importantly, unlike her younger co-workers, Catlett, 33, was vaccinated when she was a child. (The last year the vaccine was given routinely was 1972.) "For those of us who've had it before and did well, the chances are extremely small that we will develop a severe reaction. Sure, I'm realistic. I might have a low-grade fever or feel achy for several days. But I myself am not personally worried."

A smallpox outbreak, she points out, could generate fear and chaos. "Creating a group of first responders who can come in right away and start taking care of patients may be a small step in alleviating the distress, but it's a step. It can take away at least one ring of fear."

Some volunteer for the vaccination, Catlett adds, not just because they want to be protected in the event of an outbreak, but also out of a sense of duty. "You want to be there if your country needs you. That sounds cheesy, but it's true. And that's part of the reason I volunteered. I believe strongly in the vaccination program. If we get lots of people vaccinated, we can reduce the threat of smallpox. I'm willing to be here to serve the hospital. I don't have any of the contraindications, and I recognized that there weren't that many people in my department who would meet the criteria. I felt like it was my responsibility to step up to the plate."

-Anne Bennett Swingle



To learn more about Hopkins' emergency preparedness program, go to www.hopkins-cepar.org.
 

 

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