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December 20, 2002

You saw what they printed.

You saw what they printed.

Dr. Kontos replies to the e-mail I sent him regarding the NYT story on hospitals refusing to vaccinate for smallpox.

It is not uncommon for the media, including the NYT, to emphasize the 'newsworthy' portion of a story. We did not decide not to vaccinate. We have not been asked by Virginia health dept to do anything. We have approved a policy which states as follows: The VCU Health System would support smallpox vaccination of its employees if a case of smallpox is reported anywhere in the world, or state and federal officials determine that a serious risk of smallpox dissemination exists. I quoted the policy to the NYT and added that in the absence of these conditions we were not willing to expose our employees to the risks from the vaccine. You saw what they printed.

I am comfortable that we will make a thoughtful decision when the request from the State health officials arrives.

Now, this casts the story in a whole new light, albeit a familiar one to many here. As Dr. Kontos says above, VCU will start vaccinating once federal officials inform them

"that a serious risk of smallpox dissemination exists......in the absence of these conditions we were not willing to expose our employees to the risks from the vaccine"

So the VCU situation boils down to this; They'll vaccinate when the feds ask them to, but the feds haven't asked them to. Yet the NYT headlines scream "Two Hospitals Refuse to Join Bush's Plan for Smallpox". I don't know about you, but I detect the hand of Mr. Raines, imparting a bit more spin to the original story than is actually warranted. After all, "Courageous Docs Oppose Bush Policy" is a far better story for the Times and her politics than "Hospitals Wait For Request." Shocking, I know.

There's some comfort in knowing that the the situation on the ground, in Richmond at least, is not as the Times described it. Some comfort, not a lot, and it's a cold comfort. The publication of the story creates the perception that Richmond and Atlanta are going to be less prepared to fight a smallpox attack, a perception that is incorrect at least in Richmond. However, the fact that the perception is incorrect does nothing to reduce the chance of an attack. The NYT could update the story, or issue a correction, but not many people, and almost certainly even fewer terrorists, pay any attention to the corrections.

Richmond and Atlanta remain targets, but in the case of Richmond at least, it is because of Howell Raines, rather than any medical authority.

Thanks to Dr. Kontos for graciously taking the time to respond. Should I hear from Dr. del Rio, I'll post his reply as well.

Posted by Bigwig at December 20, 2002 10:26 AM | TrackBack
Postscript:
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