Smallpox outbreak response: Targeted vaccination may be almost as effective as mass vaccination

This news release is also available in French.

Vaccinating those people in close contact with smallpox victims may be almost as effective as vaccinating the entire population, in the event of an outbreak, scientists have found. The study appears in the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Using a computer model to investigate how smallpox might spread after being introduced by a few infected individuals, Elizabeth Halloran of the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University and her colleagues also found that the success of a vaccination effort hinged, to a large degree, on the level of "pre-existing immunity" in the general population.

Researchers have no way of determining how much leftover protection people over thirty still have as a result of the stippled vaccines they received as children, up until 1972, according to Halloran.

One way to increase the level of existing immunity before a smallpox outbreak may be to vaccinate volunteers and "first responders"--hospital workers and others most likely to encounter the virus, according to the researchers.

If people simply stayed home during their illness, that significantly reduced the spread of the disease and increased the effectiveness of vaccination, the researchers also found.

"The last thing you want is thousands of people running out to get vaccinated [after smallpox has been introduced]," said Halloran. "The idea is that people should just stay calm and stay home."

Based on information from the U.S. Census, the researchers' computer model simulated the possible ways that smallpox could spread through a community of 2,000 people, and the impacts of various types of vaccination efforts.

Whether to use mass or targeted vaccination in response to intentionally spread smallpox has been a matter of debate among researc

Contact: lonaga@aaas.org
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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