ATLANTA (AP) - The Bush administration shouldn't follow through
on plans to offer smallpox vaccinations to 10 million emergency
workers because of previously unknown and potentially dangerous
cardiac side effects, a federal health advisory committee said
Thursday.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices said the
government should continue the first phase of the smallpox shot
program, which seeks to inoculate 450,000 civilian health workers.
But it said it would be unwise to expand the program to millions
of police officers, firefighters and other first responders because
of the risk of heart inflammation, which the committee called "a
new and unanticipated safety concern."
Health officials had previously known that the vaccine, made
with a live virus, carries a small risk of life-threatening
complications that kill one or two people out of every million
vaccinated.
The committee sent a resolution to its parent body, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Director Dr. Julie
Gerberding said Thursday she had not received the resolution.
"I don't think I hear anything that says, 'Stop the program,"'
she said. "The question of how broad the program is something we
must pay attention to. It's absolutely clear we must have
preparedness in public health and response teams if we have any
hope of mitigating a smallpox attack."
Smallpox was declared eradicated from the world in 1980 but U.S.
officials believe it still could be used as a bioterror weapon.
Dr. Walter Orenstein, director of the CDC's national
immunization program, said several federal agencies probably will
have to discuss the resolution because of the national security
concerns.
"We need to remember that vaccine isn't the only defense
against smallpox," Orenstein said. "Isolation is critical" and
better education, training and disease surveillance are needed, he
said.
Only about 37,600 civilian health workers - less than 10 percent
of the goal - have volunteered to be vaccinated under the federal
program since it began in January.
Of those, there have been four probable and 18 suspected cases
of heart inflammation or myo/pericarditis reported, according to
the advisory committee.
Of the more than 450,000 people in the military vaccinated since
Bush's authorization in December, there has been one confirmed case
of the heart condition and about 35 probable or suspected cases.
Six people in the civilian program have had heart attacks, and
two of those victims died. Gerberding said Thursday that the heart
attacks are "most likely a coincidence and not directly associated
with the vaccine."
Federal officials recently said many states have accomplished
the first phase of the Bush plan and are reviewing the steps needed
for the next phase that would include the first responders.
CDC officials this week said that there aren't enough health
workers to properly respond to a smallpox attack, meaning hospitals
may have to use unvaccinated staff, the officials said.
Gerberding said it would be a mistake for health officials to
think that the threat of a smallpox attack has decreased because
major fighting in the Iraq war has ended and terrorist threat
levels have been lowered.
"It's tempting to somehow think the smallpox risk has
miraculously evaporated but that's not true," she said.
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(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)