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FOR RELEASE: February 11, 2003
CONTACT: Pamela Williams
Office of Communications
405/271-5601

Media Advisory

What: News Conference on Smallpox Vaccination Program

When: 11 a.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2003

Where: Oklahoma State Department of Health
1000 Northeast Tenth Street, Oklahoma City
ROOM 307

Featuring: Dr. Les Beitsch, Commissioner of Health, Dr. Mike Crutcher, State Epidemiologist, Representatives from Oklahoma City-County Health Department, Tulsa City-County Health Department, Oklahoma Hospital Association, and other health care organizations

Why: Smallpox is a contagious, and in some cases, fatal infectious disease caused by the variola virus. Approximately 30 percent of people who contract the more common form of the disease die. The last case of smallpox in the United States was in 1949, and the last natural case in the world occurred in Somalia in 1977. Routine smallpox vaccinations were discontinued in the United States in 1972.

While it is believed that the risk of an intentional release of smallpox virus is low, the consequence of an outbreak would be great. Oklahoma’s plan to assure it is prepared to meet such a potential threat includes vaccinating a limited number of key people against smallpox prior to an actual event. At this news conference, the Oklahoma State Department of Health will announce its plan to vaccinate a core group of public health employees who have volunteered to be the first nonmilitary persons to receive the smallpox vaccine in Oklahoma. Information will also be provided on the state’s plan to expand its vaccination efforts to public health and hospital response teams so they could respond to an outbreak without risk of contracting smallpox.

Media Availability: A demonstration vaccination event will follow the news conference. Nurse vaccinators will vaccinate at least two employees who have volunteered to receive the vaccine and who have agreed to be interviewed and photographed. This will be the only state-coordinated media opportunity that will be held in association with smallpox vaccinations at this time.

NOTE TO TVs: We have a limited number of “B” role Beta masters from CDC on smallpox. We will provide these to the first 5 cameras that sign in.

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