Smallpox Setbacks and Persistence

Article excerpt


The federal government's already stalled smallpox vaccination program suffered another series of setbacks this week. Two health-care workers died of heart attacks shortly after receiving inoculations, and the House postponed debate on a smallpox compensation package, similar to what President Bush had requested.

The two deaths and the discovery that five others experienced cardiac difficulties (including one who suffered a nonfatal heart attack) shortly after being immunized, prompted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to give medical deferrals to those volunteering individuals who have heart disease.

The CDC's precaution seems reasonable since the correlation is alarming, but a direct cause and effect relationship has not been established. Historically speaking, the smallpox vaccination has caused severe and even fatal side effects in a small number of those inoculated; it has not been known to cause cardiac complications. Moreover, many of those who suffered such effects had other risk factors, including the use of tobacco, hypertension and obesity. Age could be a factor, too, since all three of the individuals who suffered heart attacks were in their 50s, and of the hundreds of thousands of military personnel who have been vaccinated, only one experienced a cardiac problem afterward. …