The Carroll County Health Department invited more than 300 police officers, firefighters and paramedics to be inoculated against smallpox yesterday. By last night, eight "first responders" had gone to the clinic, the first of its kind in the state.
The turnout did not surprise Carroll County health officer Larry L. Leitch, who said that emergency workers apparently were fearful of the vaccine's side effects.
"People overestimate the probability of getting sick" from the vaccine, said Leitch, who, along with 12 other members of a team that would orchestrate immunizations in the county in the event of an outbreak, was inoculated against smallpox this year.
The state oversaw the vaccination of similar teams throughout Maryland this year. The clinic in Westminster was the first in what is to be the next step in the statewide effort, turning attention to emergency workers, said Richard Stringer, deputy director of community health for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
"Carroll is the first county to hold a clinic, but the others are gearing up to run clinics in the near future," Stringer said. He did not want to comment on yesterday's turnout.
In December, when President Bush announced a plan to vaccinate health care workers and emergency personnel to guard against terrorist attacks, officials spoke of vaccinating as many as 500,000 civilians.
But far fewer people than expected have turned up for the voluntary immunizations, and only about 38,000 people had received the vaccination by mid-August, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That was when a panel of doctors assembled by the Institute of Medicine, noting the small risk of severe or fatal side effects, advised the government not to rush to vaccinate large numbers of people.
Sun staff writers Athima Chansanchai and Scott Shane contributed to this article.