By Patrick Winderl
Six health care workers from the Havre area have been certified to administer the smallpox vaccine.
The Montana Department of Health and Human Services held a training seminar in Great Falls Tuesday that taught the six to properly handle and deliver the inoculations. Three Hill County Health Department employees and three nurses from Northern Montana Health Care attended the seminar.
The training was part of the nationwide preparation for the first round of smallpox vaccinations as the nation takes precautions against a possible bioterrorism attack. The vaccine is expected to arrive in Hill County in late March.
"We are getting things in place following the CDC guidelines," said Hill County director of nursing Cindy Smith, who was among those certified at the seminar.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta has been responsible for establishing national policy for the use and distribution of the smallpox vaccine. The Montana Department of Health and Human Services sent representatives to the CDC in December to receive the necessary certification for smallpox vaccination techniques. Those people are in turn training local health care workers throughout Montana.
During the first stage of a three-part plan created by the CDC, health care workers will receive the smallpox vaccine. The second stage will be the vaccination of other emergency response workers, including paramedics, police officers and firefighters. The final stage of the plan calls for the inoculation of the general public, and will not occur until next year, the Bush administration has said.
The CDC will begin to distribute the vaccine to Montana within a month, Smith said. Sixteen other states have already begun the initial vaccinations.
"We are watching other states to see how they are implementing their vaccination plans," she said.
Health care officials are working to finalize a plan for smallpox vaccinations in Hill County, Smith said. The plan will outline exactly who will receive the vaccine and when it will be given. The health department is working in coordination with Northern Montana Health Care to develop the plan, she said.
Kathie Newell, public relations manager for Northern Montana Health Care, said she expects the plan to be finished "in the next several weeks."
Smallpox vaccinations will be given on a strictly volunteer basis, Smith said. Some people will experience an adverse reaction to the vaccine, and it may kill a very small percentage of people who receive it. Because of the potential for harm, the CDC has created a rigorous screening process, Smith said.
"We are carefully reviewing the case studies for adverse reaction," she said. "There are people you can't screen for, and there are people who have very specific contraindication factors. Those people will not be given the vaccine except in an emergency."