PORTLAND (AP) – A team of health care workers at the state’s largest hospital received smallpox vaccinations Thursday but no other hospitals are willing to move forward with the inoculations.

Seventeen people were inoculated at the Maine Medical Center after a delay of more than a month to give state officials time to seek guidance after three vaccination-related deaths in other states.

No other Maine hospitals are participating because of fears that the risks of the vaccine outweigh the threat of a smallpox outbreak.

That means the total number of health care workers vaccinated against smallpox in Maine will stand at 65 for the time being, far below the state’s original goal of 3,000 first responders by March.

Maine isn’t alone. Federal officials have acknowledged that the original goals for inoculations will not be achieved.

Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the Maine Bureau of Health, said the state is moving forward with training for health care providers as well as a plan for vaccinating all 1.2 million residents in a 10-day period.

Mills was not overly concerned about the small number of volunteers. More can be vaccinated quickly if there’s an outbreak.

“The point is that any amount of preparedness is better than none,” Mills said in an interview from her Augusta office. “The vaccine is really just one piece of our preparedness efforts.”

At Maine Medical Center, the vaccinations were given in offices across the street from the hospital. The vaccines arrived in an unmarked van, escorted by two soldiers from the Maine National Guard.

Roughly 100 people at the Portland hospital initially expressed interest in being vaccinated against smallpox. But the number that went through the screening process was much smaller, officials said. “This is a very personal, voluntary decision,” said Dr. George Higgins, an emergency room physician and administrator at Maine Medical.

“There’s no right or wrong answer here. It’s really a result of personal deliberation about the risk and benefits to our role in society, our responsibility to our families and others,” Higgins said.

Sixteen of the 17 receiving inoculations Thursday were Maine Medical workers who will comprise a team capable of assessing, treating and containing a smallpox outbreak, Higgins said.

The team includes doctors, nurses and even environmental services workers who would be responsible for cleanup.

Patients would be placed in rooms with special ventilation and barriers to prevent the spread of the deadly disease. The only hospital staff to come into direct contact would be those who were inoculated.

The smallpox vaccinations at Maine Medical Center were originally scheduled for March 31 but were canceled after three health care workers with heart problems died after receiving inoculations.

After consulting with the Centers for Disease Control, the state allowed the vaccinations to proceed after careful screening for those with a history of heart problems or risk factors for heart disease.

AP-ES-05-22-03 1346EDT

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