Washington, Jan. 17 (Reuters): The US government’s top medical advisers today strongly questioned President George W. Bush’s smallpox vaccination plan, siding with labour groups who say it leaves too many questions unanswered.
The plan to vaccinate upwards of 400,000 emergency and medical workers, and eventually millions more, does not address the issue of who pays when someone gets sick from the vaccine, the report said.
In December Bush announced a plan to vaccinate close to one million health-care workers and members of the military in case of a biological attack using smallpox as a weapon. Smallpox was eradicated worldwide in 1989 but several countries, including the US, have stocks of the virus that could be used to make weapons.
The vaccine that wiped out smallpox is an old formula and causes many side effects. It kills between one and two in every million people who receive it, and Americans may be more vulnerable to side effects than in the 1970s when general vaccination ended.
But the Bush administration decided the risk was worth taking in view of the possible threat of biological attack. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked the Institute, which advises the government on matters ranging from vitamin requirements to vaccine safety, to take a look at the plan.
“The smallpox vaccination programme has been competently planned by public health authorities, and decades of experience in vaccination programmes and in clinical medicine have been brought to bear on this process,” the report said. But the Institute raised many issues that labour unions and other groups have — that the plan does not say what happens to people who get sick. Not only are the vaccinated workers at risk, but so are people they come into contact with in the first two weeks after being vaccinated.