Health official gives update on smallpox

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2002

No geographic location is truly immune from a health crisis.

Since Sept. 11, 2001, even Mower County has dealt with the threats of anthrax, West Nile Virus and now smallpox.

Each has been labeled a health crisis. Two of them -- anthrax and smallpox -- have been called national security issues and threatened to panic the public.

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On Tuesday, Margene Gunderson updated the Mower County Board of Commissioners on the latest terrorist attack scare.

Gunderson, the county's community health services director, shared with the commissioners how the state of Minnesota is preparing to implement a smallpox vaccination program.

According to Gunderson, the vaccination effort would target a limited number of volunteers.

The Minnesota Department of Health said those people are expected to play a "key role in responding to a smallpox outbreak."

Under the state's plan, the vaccinations would be strictly voluntary. Between 5,000 and 10,000 people in Minnesota

could be offered the opportunity to be vaccinated.

As Gunderson outlined the plan for the county commissioners, she pointed out the program would be phased in gradually.

"Those people working in public health would be in the first phase," she said. "Then, first responders, including law enforcement personnel and ambulance technicians would be among the second phase."

The third phase would offer the vaccinations to the general public.

According to Gunderson, Mower County will be part of a 10-county southeast Minnesota regional link up of counties. The targeted volunteers within the region would be identified as be among the first to be vaccinated for smallpox.

She emphasized, "There is no plan to offer the vaccinations to the general public at this time."

Lee Bonorden can be reached at 434-2232 or by e-mail at