Just a month after federal health officials said smallpox vaccines would be available to some 15,000 health and law enforcement employees, they now plan to increase that number to 500,000. This is in response to hospitals saying that a more widespread vaccination of their workers is needed as they're the first to respond to a situation should it arise.
"I support their reasons to increase the number of vaccinations, however, right now, I don't know the potentials risks of the vaccines so the fact that more health care workers could be offered the vaccine is a good thing, but I think anyone who gets a vaccine should be educated and know what their risks are," Dr. Janet Eng, Emergency Room Physician.
Right now, smallpox vaccines are only given to some military personnel and scientists who handle the virus, but federal health officials wanted that to be reconsidered after Sept. 11 and the threat of biological warfare. But still, the debate continues if the vaccination should be given nationwide.
"It's not a question of money or getting enough vaccinations because we could probably manufacture enough in the next year or two, to vaccinate the entire population, but the scientific question is: Is it better to vaccinate before an incident and risk the side effects? or after an event to a limited number of people who were around where the even occurred?" Dr. Dean Sienko, Ingham County Medical Examiner.
Routine smallpox vaccinations ended in 1972, but if a new case should emerge, U.S. policy calls for isolation of the patient and immediate vaccination to anyone who's been in contact with the patient.
The vaccine would not be given to those with compromised immune systems such as those with HIV or cancer. Since there are some cases undiagnosed, it increases the likelihood that a smallpox vaccine will not be routinely given. Approximately one in 1 million people died from complications of the vaccine, back when it was a routine vaccination given.