LIMA, Ohio - In the county where potentially tainted mail from the nation's capital is being decontaminated, the local health department has become one of the first in the state to develop a plan to administer mass immunizations in case of a bioterrorist attack.
The Allen County health department yesterday outlined how and where the county's 111,516 residents could be immunized or given medication in case anything from smallpox to anthrax was introduced locally. Dave Rosebrock, health commissioner, said the effort was not a direct result of having mail some fear could contain the deadly anthrax bacteria irradiated at a local plant, but he said it had a subtle influence.
“Since we've had citizens who have been fearful not only of their own mail but to some extent of what's going on at Titan, we've had these things on our mind, and it just seemed like an appropriate time at least to get started on this,” he said.
Using the same method it employs to sterilize medical equipment, Titan Scan Technologies, Inc., has been sanitizing mail from Washington since Oct. 25, when the first tractor-trailer load arrived at the Lima plant.
In recent weeks, the Ohio Department of Health along with federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested that counties that do not have one develop a plan for administering immunizations or dispensing medicine on a large scale in a short amount of time.
Jay Carey, spokesman for the state health department, said Ohio's six metropolitan areas have such plans in place, but that's not true in less populated counties. “This is all part of increased preparedness. There's a fine line between preparedness and panic, and this is part of being prepared,”he said.
Mr. Carey said if a community needed a particular immunization or medication, it would be funneled from the national stockpile to the state and then to the local health department. “Keep in mind local health departments have a strong history of providing local vaccination clinics. Often one of the biggest is the flu shots, but they also immunize kids, and it was that type of experience, for example, that we drew upon in Alliance during the meningitis situation.”
Mr. Rosebrock said the health department has been working on the mass immunization plan for the last week and a half.
“Anthrax has been on everyone's mind, but since it's been more perhaps of an issue for us, our director of nursing particularly, who tends to be a pretty proactive-type thinker anyway, said, `I would feel better if we had something in place,'” Mr. Rosebrock said.
In addition to setting up times, places, and ways of notifying the public in case a mass immunization plan is required, the health department has been working with funeral homes and hospitals to arrange cold-storage space for the medication.
In the meantime, truckloads of mail continue to arrive at the Titan plant, said Russ Decker, director of the Allen County Emergency Management Agency.
He said the first three truckloads of mail, which contained cardboard trays of mail packed only in black garbage bags, have been returned to Washington untreated so that the trailers can be decontaminated and the mail packaged safely. Because Mr. Decker and two others inspecting the first trailer were exposed to the mail, they are taking antibiotics as a precaution.
Mr. Rosebrock said the health department asked that samples be taken from the trailers and tested so that the three men can discontinue the antibiotics if no threat of anthrax is identified.
He said he is comfortable with what's going on at Titan. Representatives of nearly every state and federal health agency have visited the plant since the decontamination work began. “I just don't think there's an additional threat or risk posed by this process being done here,” Mr. Rosebrock said.