Smallpox vaccination grinds to halt

paired immunity. Major hospitals, such as the Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, refused to have any of their staff vaccinated. It was also not clear whether there would be any compensation for staff needing time off or medical care due to vaccine complications. Such compensation has been approved in principle but the details have still not been published.

Add to this mounting scepticism about the likelihood of a smallpox attack, and it now seems clear there will be no flood of volunteers, Strom predicts. "The CDC calls it a natural pause," he says. "But the first phase of the plan is now functionally over."

The second phase, in which the vaccine was to be offered to millions more healthcare workers and the public, was quietly shelved by the CDC in June, after recently vaccinated soldiers and civilians developed complications. There were 52 cases of pericardial or heart inflammation. There were also other heart problems, including 8 heart attacks, 3 of them fatal, though this was in the normal range.

"Where we go from here remains to be decided," Henderson says. "It would be desirable to have more vaccinated, but this is, after all, a voluntary programme."

However, says Strom, with half a million vaccinated military personnel, there may already be enough people to carry out emergency vaccination. What's lacking, he says, is any detailed plan for calling on them after an attack.

Author: Debora MacKenzie

New Scientist issue: 23rd August 2003


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