Administration finalizing plans to provide smallpox vaccines
11 October 2002
Making smallpox vaccine available is the first step. Getting people to
take it may be much harder.
The vaccine protects recipients against smallpox. but it can also kill. So the Bush administration is preparing an extensive education plan to help people understand the risks and the benefits as it finalizes plans to provide the shot to the general public.
Already, there are many questions:
Q: What is smallpox and why is it so worrisome?
Bioterrorism experts paint frightening scenarios like this: A dozen people on a suicide mission infect themselves with smallpox and, when they are at their most contagious, walk around airports, infecting hundreds of others who then carry the virus across the country.
Q: Wasn't smallpox wiped out?
Q: Why not just vaccinate everyone right now?
Q: How many people could be hurt by taking the vaccine?
For the approximately 130 million Americans never vaccinated, experts would expect nearly 2,000 to face life-threatening complications and 125-150 of them to die.
For about 158 million people being revaccinated, experts expect nearly 800 life-threatening complications and about 40 deaths.
Q: What sort of reactions and complications?
The most common serious reactions comes when vaccinia escapes from the inoculation site, often because people touch the site and then themselves or someone else. For instance, the virus transferred to the eye can cause blindness.
More deadly is encephalitis, which can cause paralysis or permanent neurological damage. Also fatal though very rare: progressive vaccinia, where the vaccination site does not heal and the virus spreads, eating away at flesh, bone and gut.
Q: Who's at greatest risk of complications?
Q: How do these side effects compare to other vaccines?
By comparison, the measles-mumps-rubella shot can cause reactions including anaphylaxis, marked by swelling inside the mouth and difficulty breathing. But just 11 cases of anaphylaxis have been reported since 1990, out of more than 30 million vaccinations, and no one has died.
Q: If the vaccine is effective four days after exposure, why not just
vaccinate after an attack?
Q: Absent an attack, who will get the vaccine?
Q: Is there enough smallpox vaccine for everyone?
Associated Press article printed in the The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va., Friday, October 11, 2002
For more information on smallpox, see http://www.who.int/emc/diseases/smallpox/faqsmallpox.html