CHARLESTON -- Officials with the Mississippi County Health Department were busy implementing Phase II of the county's emergency response plan Thursday by administering smallpox vaccinations to the county's first responders.
City officials, EMTs, firefighters and police officers were among those given the opportunity to receive the smallpox vaccination as part of the national smallpox preparedness program.
"This is strictly voluntary for participants. It is not required," said Mississippi County Health Department Administrator Melanie Glaus, adding the last time the state mandated the smallpox vaccination was 1977.
While there is no smallpox problem at this moment, the county is preparing for a possible terrorist attack and taking precautions to be ready to deal with such an attack, Glaus said. There always remains the possibility that terrorists could have stocks of smallpox virus and could deliberately release this virus, she said.
The process of the vaccination is not an actual injection but a pricking of the skin with a two-prong needle which looks like a two- prong fork, Glaus explained.
Those vaccinated are screened for their health once and then screened again, Glaus said. They then must watch a short video about the vaccination and how to take care of the site, she noted.
Bertrand City Council Member Dennis Quertermous said the paperwork was the biggest surprise to him when he received the vaccination Thursday.
"I've had several vaccinations in my lifetime -- I served in the Army and National Guard -- but I've never seen so much paper work with a vaccination in my life," Quertermous said. "They were extremely cautious about exposing it to anyone else."
The small pox vaccination is a live virus but made synthetically in a form of vaccination virus. The health department could possibly provide the general public with the vaccine but this will be in the near future.
"I wanted to show that the vaccination is safe. A lot of people are scared it wasn't safe and I want to show it is safe," Quertermous said about why he chose to receive the vaccine.
Healthcare providers were included in Phase I, Glaus said and Phase III will include the general public; however a date has not been established at this time.
If the vaccination is available to the public in the future, Quertermous said he certainly recommends it.
"This is what stopped smallpox in the world to begin with," Quertermous said. "Right now there's not supposed to be a case of it in the world, but if terrorists were to attack with it, we need to be ready -- and I'd like to see this thing be successful."