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A New System Prepares America for Bioterrorist Attacks

Smallpox, a disease that hasn't been a threat to the United States since 1971, has recently stirred-up controversy. After Sept. 11, 2001, the United States has been evaluating future bioterrorist threats-which includes the American populations' vulnerability to the smallpox disease.

There is a vaccine for smallpox, but it hasn't been used since the '70s, which is the reason for the debate on whether or not the vaccine should be available to the public. Although the old vaccination brings protection against the disease, it may also bring severe side effects and in some cases death. Many think that a new, safer vaccine could be developed-but some are too fearful to wait. "The Today Show," "Dateline NBC" and various other media resources have been covering the story and waiting for a government retort.

On Dec. 13, 2002, the government responded. President Bush announced a plan to start vaccinating American soldiers and civilians against smallpox. The reasoning behind this decision is to prepare for the possibility that terrorists who kill indiscriminately would also kill by using disease as a weapon. Soldiers and health-care workers will be first to receive the vaccination and then eventually the general public on a voluntary basis.

According to Reuters Health's Dec. 13, 2002, online report, neither President Bush's family nor his staff will receive the vaccination because health officials don't believe it is necessary for the general public.

In response to the sudden demand for the vaccination, Becton Dickinson (BD), a world-renowned medical technology company, has also made an announcement. The company has created the Bioterror Preparedness Network and has signed an agreement with Governor James E. McGreevey to make New Jersey the first state to pilot test the innovative system for tracking smallpox vaccinations.

"The Bioterror Preparedness Network is a mobile, scalable, anywhere, anytime, immunization solution. It's tailored specifically for smallpox vaccinations-but it can be adapted for other vaccination and immunization uses. The system itself is designed to support the complete immunization process, using wireless and Web-enabled technologies, from the time the person enrolls right through the time he/she is immunized, as well as during follow-up," explained Dr. Zeil Rosenberg, MD, MPH, worldwide business leader for immunization at BD.

The network tracks the vaccination by using a small notebook personal computer (PC) and a digital camera. The entire system will be implemented into the New Jersey structure and should only take a day to deploy. Once BD is confident that the network passes the New Jersey test, it will be in the position to launch the product commercially.

"It's really an exciting project, but it's tailored to the unfortunate needs that we have right now, which is figuring out a way to prepare for bioterrorists events," stated Rosenberg.

In addition to tracking the immunizations, the system can also create a "clinic in a box," which means it can set up a complete clinic wherever it's needed, whenever it's needed and under any situation. It works with or without Internet connectivity, which is a crucial factor in mobility and is designed to fit in with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) protocols.

The network contains state-of-the-art technology and is a cost efficient solution for distributing and tracking the smallpox vaccination. "It's significantly less costly than a stand-alone solution that would be part of a major health system or network. The reason for this is that as more states take advantage, the cost-in a sense-drops. The more people that participate, the lower the cost will be to pass onto their partners," assured Rosenberg.

"Our government has no information that a smallpox attack is imminent," President Bush stated in the Reuters Health report, but if it does occur, the Bioterror Preparedness Network will enable the American public to survive.

Tricia Cassidy is an editorial assistant at ADVANCE.

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