Study examines the potential risks of smallpox vaccination

ANN ARBOR, MI An immunization campaign to vaccinate Americans against smallpox would be protective against a smallpox bioterror attack, but the smallpox vaccination itself poses a risk of death or serious illness. So, a new study recommends, any decision to resume smallpox vaccination should be based on the likelihood of a smallpox attack, the effectiveness of other smallpox control measures, and the potential harm of the smallpox vaccine.

These conclusions are based on historical evidence from prior smallpox vaccination campaigns, adjusted to the current American population. Pediatric researchers at the University of Michigan Health System will present those findings on May 7 at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore.

Smallpox is deadly, killing as many as 30 percent of those infected. Immunization against smallpox using vaccinia, the live cowpox virus, was successful in eradicating smallpox globally by 1980. But routine vaccination in the United States was stopped in 1972 when the risk posed by the vaccine outweighed the risk of contracting smallpox.

It is not known how much immunity against smallpox remains in those people vaccinated prior to 1972. The recent anthrax attacks have raised concern about the nations vulnerability to smallpox attack, and recent polls found that many Americans would be interested in smallpox vaccination, if it were available.

The UMHS researchers led by pediatrician Alex Kemper, M.D., MPH, MS hope their results may help guide public officials as they develop plans to prepare for a possible bioterror attack with smallpox. Their research group, the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit, focuses on issues of vaccine delivery and preventive health.

Historical evidence indicates that children less than one year old, and people with compromised immune systems or eczema, are most at risk for side effects from smallpox vaccination and should not receive the vacc

Contact: Kara Gavin
University of Michigan Health System

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