Smallpox program may collapse

Is the vaunted mass smallpox vaccination program in the toilet? An observer might well think so in light of recent news reports.

NBC reported: “Health officials strongly discourage this (vaccination), and said once people became aware of the risks, they expected few to press for the vaccine.”

Tommy Thompson, secretary of the Health and Human Services agency, who was adamantly for the plan just a few weeks ago, said his organization is not pushing for mass vaccination. Thompson said he will not get the vaccine personally and urged other agency heads to pass on it as well.

President Bush already has stated he will have the vaccination because he has ordered troops in and bound for the Mideast to get it.

At the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who heads the smallpox vaccination program, said: “While the vaccine will be offered to adults on a voluntary basis, it will not be available for children except in the event of a smallpox (bioterror) attack. Ethical and safety concerns bar children from clinical trials being conducted now, meaning the vaccine cannot be licensed for them.”

The program began to unravel when some of the nation’s largest hospitals refused to

vaccinate their staffs, and some health authorities began speaking out about the dangers of the smallpox vaccine.

Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond said the risk of dangerous side effects of the vaccine and inadvertent transmission to patients outweigh the very remote threat of a terrorist attack with the virus. In addition, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Emory Medical Center in Atlanta and the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics all are moving toward no vaccination of their staffs.

These hospitals also are well aware of the mammoth liability problem that could result if hospital patients, who are immune-suppressed from other diseases, should contract contact vaccinia from healthcare staff members.

Dr. Carlos del Rio of Emory University told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “At this point in time, the risk of the vaccine far outweighs the benefit of getting the vaccine.” He said he fully backs the decision of his staff at Grady Memorial Hospital not to take the vaccine.

In Rockford, Swedish-American Hospital has announced that it will administer the vaccine to its entire staff. Nationally, unions representing healthcare workers have opposed such plans.

Patricia Doyle, Ph.D., a scientist in the field of microbiology, commented: “I advise that you first find out if your doctor, dentist (or other practitioner) has had smallpox vaccine within the past 21 days before you make an appointment. Without time off, (healthcare) employees should be STRONGLY urged to stay at home in quarantine. It would not be of advantage for the newly-vaccinated to go out to shopping malls, movies and so on and thus put the public at risk.”

She noted that MD Anderson Cancer Hospital has barred newly vaccinated staff members from coming closer than 6 feet to cancer patients.

The smallpox vaccine uses a live virus-Orthopox vaccinia—which is supposed to protect against smallpox, which is caused by Orthopox variola, a totally different organism.

No cases of smallpox have been reported since 1978. “We stopped using this vaccine when this disease was eradicated because it was dangerous,” said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The U.S. quit vaccinating in 1972, but recently has done some studies on a small group of people who were vaccinated in an effort to see if the existing stocks of the vaccine could be diluted. Doctors carrying out those trials said they have seen startling side effects from use of the vaccine.

“We did have a lot of people calling us in a panic,” said Dr. John Treanor, who vaccinated volunteers at the University of Rochester in New York state. “Those relatively large reactions can be associated with swelling of the lymph nodes in the armpit, which can be painful. You can get malaise,” Treanor said. “Ten percent or so may have missed a couple of days from work because they didn’t feel up to coming in.”

Additonally, some people may develop a rash. Doctors don’t know why. There are other hazards. “If you get vaccinia in your eye,” said Dr. Gerberding, “you can become blind.”

The experts aren’t sure just what to expect today. “Although the vaccine may be the same, we are different,” said Mary Selecky, secretary of health for Washington state. “How many people do you know who have gone through chemotherapy today, and how many did you know, or did your parents know, in 1954?”

Reuters reported the American Medical Association said it does not favor mass vaccination for smallpox. It said the potential threat of a terrorist attack did not warrant inoculating every American against the disease.

A number of medical studies have documented the several serious side effects of this vaccine. They include damaging brain and heart diseases, autism, chromosomal changes, diabetes, various cancers, leukemias and demyelination of nerve tissue.

Some of the new vaccine doses are created with animal substrate. This raises some concerns about the possibility of mad cow disease contamination of the vaccine. Fifty-five million doses of the new vaccine reportedly were created using a cell line dating back to 1966 and cultured from the lung tissues of an aborted human fetus.

Pharmaceutical companies were in line to make $800 million to furnish vaccines for this program. Next week we’ll look closer at these companies and who is connected with them.

Internationally, mass vacination is also being rejected. National Public Radio reported that Isreal will not vaccinate its population because it does not consider a bioterror attack from Iraq a threat.

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