By GRAHAM UNDERWOOD Associated Press Writer
HELENA - Smallpox vaccinations for health workers have begun in four Montana communities, with about 50 people undergoing the voluntary shots so far, state and county health officials said Wednesday.
Nine physicians and nurses from four counties showed up Wednesday in Havre for the state's latest inoculations. They came one day after federal authorities announced an investigation into whether the vaccine was linked to a Maryland woman's death and recommended that people with heart disease not get the vaccination.
''They were a little nervous,'' Cindy Smith, Hill County director of nursing, said of those at Havre's clinic. ''Everybody did pretty good. It went well. It doesn't really hurt when you get it. It's just - what do you expect now? Because you won't see any reactions for a week.''
Vaccinations also have been given this month in Kalispell, Great Falls and Billings, said Ken Pekoc, a spokesman for the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services. Pekoc said about 500 in the state have volunteered to receive the shots.
''I think under the circumstances, with so much unknown, it's about what we expect,'' he said of the response.
Pekoc said the state asked federal authorities for 1,000 vaccinations and all have arrived in Montana, though some have not been distributed to communities. Vaccinations, which are intended only for front-line medical workers, also will be administered in Missoula, Helena, Butte, Bozeman, Miles City and Sidney. Pekoc said all volunteers should receive vaccinations by the end of April.
Dick Brown, senior vice president of the Association of Montana Health Care Providers, said the group doesn't have a policy for members to follow on smallpox. However, he said, some of the state's larger hospitals are trying to assemble teams of volunteers who would take the shots.
''We have heard concerns from management in the facilities and their employees, just about the unknown about having the vaccine,'' Brown said, adding that workers were worried about getting time off and having health costs covered if the vaccinations cause any medical complications.
Past results indicate 1,000 of every 1 million people vaccinated will develop serious reactions, up to 52 of every 1 million will have a potentially life-threatening response, and one or two people of every 1 million will die, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.