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NIH awards $20.7 million to make smallpox vaccine safer

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year, $20.7 million grant to National Jewish Medical and Research Center to lead a consortium of academic medical centers trying to make smallpox vaccines safer for millions of people with atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema.

"People with a history of atopic dermatitis and people who live with them do not receive smallpox vaccines because atopic dermatitis patients and former patients face an increased risk of developing serious and potentially fatal reactions to the vaccine," said Donald Leung, M.D., Ph.D. Head of the Division of Pediatric Allergy-Clinical Immunology at National Jewish, and principal investigator for the Clinical Studies Consortium of the Atopic Dermatitis and Vaccinia Network. "Our consortium will seek to understand their susceptibility and develop protocols that will allow them to be vaccinated against this potential bioterrorist threat." Erwin Gelfand, M.D., Chairman of Pediatrics at National Jewish, will conduct animal studies in association with the Animal Studies Consortium of the network.

Long a dreaded scourge of humans, smallpox was wiped out around the world by 1980 due to an aggressive vaccination program. Routine vaccinations in the United States ended in 1972. Although the only known stocks of the smallpox virus are contained in laboratories in the United States and Russia, government and health officials fear that others may have the virus and use it as a terrorist weapon. As a result, military and healthcare professionals have begun receiving smallpox vaccinations for the first time in more than 30 years. In the case of an actual smallpox outbreak, thousands and possibly millions of people would receive the vaccine. People with atopic dermatitis do not currently receive the vaccine because they are susceptible to developing eczema vaccinatum, a severe and potentially fatal skin disease caused
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Contact: William Allstetter
allstetterw@njc.org
303-398-1002
National Jewish Medical and Research Center
19-May-2004


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