San Francisco General Hospital Bars Smallpox Vaccine Over Patient Safety Concern
San Francisco General Hospital has announced that it will not allow health care workers who have "direct contact" with patients to receive the smallpox vaccine because of patient safety concerns, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Hospital officials are concerned that newly immunized health care workers, who are at risk of spreading the virus to others within two to four weeks of being inoculated, may accidentally transmit vaccinia -- the live virus used in the vaccine -- to patients; vaccinia can sometimes be life-threatening to people with weakened immune systems. Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of communicable disease prevention and smallpox planning for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said the policy is intended to protect at-risk patients, including those with HIV, some skin conditions, cancer or transplanted organs, or those who are taking immunosuppressive agents. Fernyak said that because of the "chronic shortage" of nurses and "tight budgets," almost no hospital worker can be relieved from patient care duty for the length of time needed for the provider to pass through the infectious stage. While approximately 15 doctors and administrators in the public health department have "juggled" their schedules so they can be vaccinated, Fernyak said nurses are "unlikely" to be able to do the same. While most nurses at the hospital support the department's decision, as does Service Employees International Union Local 790, the workers' union, some workers have said they want to be vaccinated. Tom Skinner, a spokesperson for the CDC, said cities should not "gloss over the risk of bioterrorism" and that the reluctance of health workers to be vaccinated "could be shortsighted" (Russel, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/4).
In related news, San Francisco General Hospital officials said the facility must have a rooftop helicopter landing pad so that critically injured patients would not need to be diverted to outlying hospitals, the Chronicle reports. Hospital administrators said the hospital often has to divert trauma patients to other trauma centers with helipads, such as Stanford Medical Center in Palo Alto and Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, or use inadequate helipads at local naval shipyards when transporting trauma patients by air ambulance. Officials added that the threat of terrorist attacks and earthquakes give additional credence for the need for the helipad and said the landing pad would help the "cash-strapped" hospital raise money. However, many city residents oppose the plan because of noise and safety concerns. The city Health Commission will meet today to consider moving forward with the $3 million helipad proposal (Gordon, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/4).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.