ATLANTA - A scientific panel announced last week that the Bush Administration should consider vaccinating key federal and state government officials with the smallpox vaccine to prevent widespread infection in case of a bioterrorism attack.
The recommendation is under review by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy G. Thompson.
A "smallpox response team" made up of physicians, epidemiologists, technicians, nurses, law enforcement and a variety of other officials would be vaccinated against the disease. The team would also be trained to coordinate quarantines and mass vaccinations if necessary.
Although smallpox has been eradicated since 1978, officials are worried a cache of spores could fall into the wrong hands and be transformed into disastrous bioterrorism attack. There are also concerns about the vaccination, which carries a risk of death.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America 9IDSA) recommended against mass vaccinations in the United States because officials say some 4,600 Americans would face serious adverse events from the inoculation and more than 280 would die.
Marguerite Neill, MD, chair of the organization's bioterrorism work group, says the risks leave little choice.
"We think this approach represents a health balance in bioterroism preparedness - saving the smallpox vaccine for when it's truly needed, without putting healthy populations unnecessarily at risk," she says. "In the absence of naturally occurring smallpox, IDSA believes that the general public should not be vaccinated before an attack. Likewise, the United States should not implement a permissive vaccination program allowing individuals to self-select the vaccine."
The recommendation will be presented to President Bush for review.
Information from www.washingtonpost.com, staff research