Smallpox inoculation continues for area health care workers


Smallpox vaccinations continue in Hill County despite concerns across the country that the vaccine could be unsafe for some people.

The Hill County Health Department has administered the vaccine to 16 people so far, and more are expected this week, said Cindy Smith. Smith, director of nursing at the Hill County Health Department, is one of six people in Havre trained to give the inoculations.

The vaccine, which is not available to the general public, may be responsible for the deaths of four people nationwide.

President Bush called for the vaccinations in response to fears that the smallpox virus could be used as a biological weapon during a terrorist attack. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made the vaccine available to health care workers across the country.

The majority of people vaccinated in Hill County have been medical workers from Blaine, Chouteau, Liberty and Phillips counties, Smith said. As of today, five people from Hill County had received the vaccine, she added.

People who volunteer to be vaccinated must pass a rigorous screening process, Smith said. The CDC has created a checklist of health factors that could preclude a person from receiving the vaccine, she said.

The CDC has determined that people who have a heart condition, diabetes, high blood pressure or who smoke are at increased risk of getting sick from the smallpox vaccine.

People who have three of the four factors will be disqualified from vaccination, Smith said.

"We're really screening for those four things," she said. "We just want to make sure."

The Hill County Health Department administered the vaccine to four people Wednesday. Eight people were originally scheduled, Smith said. One person was denied the vaccine based on the screening process, one person canceled and two rescheduled, she said.

One of the risks involved with the vaccine is that it uses a live virus, Smith said. Special care is taken not to spread the virus from the person who is vaccinated to other people.

The inoculation is given on the upper arm. The area must be covered immediately following the vaccination, Smith said. It scabs and leaves a scar.

"Washing hands and clothing is extremely important," she added.

Even if a person passes the screening, he or she may be denied the vaccine if any family members are at increased risk of being injured by the vaccine, Smith said.

To date, 11 states have suspended use of the vaccine following reports of several people dying and dozens falling ill after being inoculated. The CDC believes the vaccine may be responsible for heart inflammation and chest pain in some recipients.

The Montana Department of Health and Human Services has not made a blanket decision regarding vaccinations in Montana, Smith said.

"They've left it up to the individual sites," she said. "There's a lot of education involved and issues to consider."

Yellowstone County is the lone site in Montana to suspend inoculations. Dr. Doug Moore, medical director for the Yellowstone City-County Health Department, said the decision was made after people scheduled to receive the vaccine began to back out.

''The cardiovascular factors and the fact that there is some confusion out there on how exactly to address the risk factors of the disease led to this decision," he said.

Nationwide, far fewer people have been vaccinated to date than the Bush administration planned. According to the CDC, about 25,000 people in the United Stated have received the vaccine, far short of the 500,000 the president had hoped for.

The CDC said that only a very small percentage of the population will suffer serious health problems from taking the vaccine. Most side effects are minor, and include fatigue and nausea.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this story.


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